Hydrotherapy and Naturopathic Medicine

Hydrotherapy has been a mainstay of naturopathic treatment for over a century, but it’s been around since ancient times, in a variety of forms, from the Roman steam bath to the hot and cold plunges preferred in Germany.  Jacuzzis, saunas and spas are ever popular in North America, but did you know that you can enjoy the health benefits of hydrotherapy right in your own home, without it costing you a bundle? In fact, I can teach you an easy way to treat common illnesses and improve your health, using just towels and water.  In my private practice, we use hydrotherapy on a regular basis, and teach a simplified technique to patients that can be used at home.

In the most basic sense, hydrotherapy is the use of water externally on the body as a method of healing. Most people think of ice for an acute injury such as a bruise or a sprain, but it’s important to realize that liquid water has different properties than frozen water. When used as an anti-inflammatory to reduce pain and swelling, the cold application should be just that – cold, but not freezing, and keep in mind that alternating hot and cold can be more appropriate at certain stages of healing.

Constitutional hydrotherapy: Naturopathic physicians are trained in a specific type of hydrotherapy called “constitutional” hydrotherapy, which involves the use of alternating hot and cold wet towels applied to the mid torso, often in combination with gentle sine wave stimulation. Sine wave is a low voltage alternating current that when applied over the mid torso, results in a long, slow, gentle contraction and release of the underlying muscles. This technique stimulates the kidneys, pancreas, adrenal and lymph glands, increasing the flow of lymph, and exerting a powerful effect on the immune system.

From a holistic medicine perspective, the primary goal of constitutional hydrotherapy is to increase core body temperature. Optimal body temperature is considered to be 98.6 F., however, many individuals are not able to maintain this. In practice, I commonly see patients with body temperatures of 97.0 F, or lower and I rarely see temperatures over 98.0 F, except in febrile states. Normal body temperature is important because the human enzymes that are necessary for digestion and other body processes only operate within a fairly narrow range of temperature, and these systems don’t function very well below 98.0 F.

Research has shown that Constitutional Hydrotherapy can increase core body temperature, lower blood pressure, reduce pain, cholesterol and triglycerides and  lower elevated liver enzymes. It also increases certain types of white blood cells, particularly monocytes, and in some limited studies has been shown to help regulate high blood sugar. A single treatment may be all that is needed for an acute illness such as a cold or ear infection, but a series of treatments may be needed for more chronic problems. Older folks quite commonly have a low core body temperature and there are special applications of hydrotherapy that are particularly suited to elder care situations and for people with Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.

Warming socks treatment: My personal favorite hydrotherapy technique is the warming socks treatment. This is a simple contrasting hot and cold application that can be done overnight at home. It’s useful for fever, ear infections, colds and flu, and it works especially well for older folks and children.

If you would like more information about hydrotherapy, call or e-mail me and I will be happy to provide you with resources.


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