What is Hydrotherapy?

Hydrotherapy has been very popular in America and Europe over the years, and is still widely practiced there. For those desiring further reading in this particular skill, the “Manual of Hydrotherapy and Massage” sets out each form and the steps to be used. It is written by Dr F. B. Moor and others, and is published by Pacific Press Publishing Association, Nampa, Idaho, USA.

It is claimed that in areas where some screening programs have been in use for many years, reduced death rates are now being reported, such as cervical cancer in women where large numbers have been smear tested for a number of years.

However, others claim that some of these results are merely a reflection that the type of cancer being sought is becoming less common, and apparently good results are not necessarily the result of the screening programs. No doubt Job’s comforters will always be with us.

This form of treatment is not generally well-known. However, some hospitals have been using it for years, with considerable success. Unfortunately, not many places practice it, and in the overall picture, not many doctors are aware of it. However, mention of a number of methods will be made here, for some of them are eminently suitable for home use involving the use of water, they are cheap and often effective. They do take some time and a little effort, but they can yield satisfying results.

Hydrotherapy is not meant to replace normal therapeutic methods, and certainly does not preclude calling a doctor if illness strikes—and drug medication, or antibiotics, or surgery may be needed. Rather, it may be considered to be complementary to existing forms of medical therapy.

Often simple illnesses, many of which can be treated at home in any event, can be helped by simple forms of hydrotherapy.

How Hydrotherapy Works

The principle underlying the use water is that heat can readily be transmitted by water. Heat, or the lack of heat (cold), is well-known to be effective in many bodily functions. Heat tends to late blood vessels, chiefly the superficial ones.

The reverse, cold, tends to have the opposite effect. It causes the superficial blood vessels to constrict, or shrink. Therefore, it is possible to get two situations: an increased blood supply to a given area by the local application of heat, or the reduction, by shrinking the vessels. These physiological conditions are called vasodilation and vasoconstriction. (Blood transfers to vessels, and they are either widened or narrowed.)

Hot and Cold Foot

Heat is an excellent analgesic, and can often bring considerable relief to painful areas.

The use of water treatment is called hydrotherapy. It is popular with many people, and although its heyday was during the first half of this century, it still has a place in home therapy.

Several fairly simple forms of hydrotherapy are outlined on this page, chiefly to let those who would like to use it know the general principles. Others might care to try it for various disorders. At least it’s safe, often effective, and may bring relief in a simple, drug-free manner. Hydrotherapy is complementary to other forms of therapy, and is not meant to replace treatment that might be ordered by doctor. It meant to replace medicinal treatment, the use of antibiotics, or other medication where doctor feel this is necessary.


This is a simple method of applying heat to any external area. It provides moist heat. The easiest method is to use a toweling pack larger than the area to be treated. Place the towel in boiling water allowing it to become saturated. Pour out water, and then wring out heated towel using suitable metal instruments to avoid burning. Then wrap in several towels, or ideally a piece of blanket first. With several towels between the hot pack and the skin, apply the heated foment. Check with the hand to make certain it is not too hot. Added towels may be required. Apply for a few minutes then remove, reapplying and removing. Adequate heat that is not uncomfortably hot to the patient is the correct temperature. Towels may be gradually removed until the pack cools off and no further heal comes through.

Following this, the skin is usually a pinch red. The area may then be massaged gently, or firmly, depending on the type of condition being treated. An olive-oil-based lubricant may be used. Alternatively, cold packs may similarly be used. Either a simple cold pack, or pack made of ice is suitable. Some will find that an alternate hot then cold pack gives more benefit. This form of therapy has many uses and can be used for virtually any form of pain relief. Bruising, joint contusions or tearing, chest congestions, coughs, colds etc., may all benefit. It is always wise to finish with a cold pack to avoid possibly aggravating the current condition.

It may be used for a similar range of disorders—bruises, muscle and joint injuries, infections, congestions etc. In fact, there are many areas in which it is worth a trial. It is unlikely to cause any harm, and may bring soothing relief of pain.

The Sitz Bath

Here the patient sits in a bath intended to immerse the lower abdominal, buttock and upper-thigh region. Special devices called the “sitz bath” are made, and used in institutions employing this form of therapy. Any sort of tub may be substituted. It is claimed to give relief to various types of lower abdominal discomfort, such as hemorrhoids, dysmenorrhea, cystitis, and some pelvic inflammations. The water may be either hot or cold, or alternating hot and cold. The results will vary, and the patient may use the type that seems to give the best results.

Cold Packs

These can often give relief from pain prevent swelling after bruising, prevent the worsening of bruising, and decrease local blood flow. Sprains, contusions, soft-tissue injuries (especially those sustained in sport) and various joint disorders frequently benefit from the application of a cold pack.

Apply a layer of crushed ice to the affected area. This may be contained in sheeting or toweling with edges pinned. The application may be continued for up to 30 minutes, and this system repeated at intervals of two to four hours.

The Russian Bath

This must be carried out where facilities are available. Virtually it means that the room is filled with a continuing supply of steam that considerably raises the temperature. The patient’s head, draped with ice packs, protrudes from an aperture in the wall. Inside, the patient receives a full body massage. It is said to relieve congestion and loosen secretions in chest and upper respiratory type infections. A cold shower afterwards is essential. It is very enervating, and the presence of the attendant later is important.

Salt Glow

This is an exhilarating form of treatment that stimulates the system, improves the peripheral circulation, and gives the patient a general sense of wellbeing. It is claimed to be a stimulant to persons who do not take kindly to cold applications. There is no doubt that may bring a general feeling of exhilaration and well-being. It must be carried out by an attendant conversant with the system.

A lukewarm shower is taken. Then coarse salt is rubbed into the skin. This is done in a systematic manner, starting with the upper then lower limbs, then the neck, trunk and probably the face. Rubbing is brisk, but not too hard, for may feel uncomfortable and abrade the skin. The coarseness of the salt is tempered by the moisture.

Finally a shower is taken and the treatment is over.

Electric-Light Bath

In principle this is similar to the Russian bath, but is much less forceful. Again, it must be carried out in a place with is type of equipment. The patient is placed in a special box that has reflectors on each side and is fitted with numerous electric-light bulbs. The lights are turned and the internal temperature of the box increases. The patient’s head protrudes from the top of the box, and the patient is given cold packs for the face and head and probably drinks iced water. Abundant vasodilation is in place, causing profuse sweating. The purpose of the treatment is to increase peripheral vasodilation and eating, and it may have some internal value. It is said to be helpful in chest congestion. An attendant must be on hand in case the patient feels sick or needs assistance. A cool-cold shower follows.

Vichy Bath

This is also carried out in a specially designed canvas bath with a spray system above it. The canvas bath is filled with warm water, the patient given a bath and total body massage by the attendant. At the same time sprays of hot, warm and cold water come from the spray system above, playing continuously over the body and giving a prickling sensation to the accompanying massage.

This is stimulating at first, but then extremely relaxing as blood comes to the peripheral areas. Following this it is impossible to resist the overpowering desire to sleep. It is an excellent sedative, and helpful for persons who are unable to get adequate rest during an illness.

Cold Mitten Friction

This is the application of icy water actively massaged into the body, all over, general body and limb massage being given segmentally. The attendant wears tough cotton mittens that have a coarse finish (often knitted with a coarse cord). The cold causes vasoconstriction, but the risk activity also tends to cause a reflex vasodilation.
This stimulates blood circulation to the areas treated. On completion, the parts feel warm and tingling, and pleasant.

Contrast Baths

This is simply alternating hot and cold baths, or showers, either to the entire body, or to selected areas. It is similar in principle to other forms of hot and cold, it is done with moisture, and water flowing used directly. It produces an alternate dilation then constriction of the superficial blood vessels.

This may be given to selected areas, and may assist aches and pains in various parts of the body.


Body massage may be employed, either as an exercise on its own, or following any of the foregoing methods. Massage relieves muscle strains and redness. Arrows indicate the direction to rub. When given by an experienced masseur, this is usually carried out in a systematic manner. It consists of a variety of methods aimed at exercising the muscle groups of the body, and each is systematically done, often starting with the upper limbs, extending to the back, lower limbs, and front of the trunk.

Basically, it involves movements that increase the circulation to the various parts of the body. Its purpose is to drain venous blood, which is then re placed by fresh arterial blood.

Sprays (Needle Sprays)

In places with the equipment, various forms of hot or cold or alternating hot and cold needle sprays to the body are available. These give a very stimulating effect to the skin, producing vasoconstriction. The reasons are the same as for any other form of heat treatment.

It can provide a very relaxing and restful sensation, usually leaving the patient feeling sedated and ready for sleep. Muscle areas are heavily massaged at first, punched, slapped, hit with the sides of the hands. Then treatment is given more gently, with gentle stroking being the final movement.

Often injured parts will respond to this form of therapy. It may reduce pain by improving the blood supply.

This can be carried out as a household measure, with a homemade system of massage often proving beneficial.