Hydrotherapy: an underappreciated, underused, yet powerful modality.
“The cure for anything is salt water, sweat, tears, or the sea” - the words of an author from the 1800s.
Water used in the right way at the right time can have profound benefits.
Water therapy is one of the foundational cornerstones that Naturopathic Medicine was built on. It is an ancient method of treatment that has been used around the globe for as far back as history books can illuminate. But how did it come into use in modern medicine?
In the 1800s a farmer named Vincent Priessnitz from Austria observed how wounded animals bathed in cold water to heal themselves. One day he applied this observation to his own broken ribs (he was run over by a carriage) using a cold water bandage. His success prompted him to help others around him and he eventually opened a hydrotherapy institution where he successfully treated thousands of people who the medical doctors of that time were unable to help. Around the same time, a priest named Father Kneipp from Bavaria was having similar success after healing his own tuberculosis with hydrotherapy. He went on to help many people using this therapy, one of them being a man named Benedict Lust. Benedict would become one of the “fathers of naturopathy”, combining water cure with nature cure modalities. One of his patient’s, named Henry Lindlahr, who came to him after being told by his physicians that they couldn’t do anything more for him, was cured by Lust’s therapies. Lindlahr then went on to finish his medical training and to write “Nature Cure”, which became the guide to the practice of nature cure medicine.
There is so much more in the fascinating history of hydrotherapy and the development of Naturopathic Medicine, but for now, let’s get into some of the nitty-gritty of what water therapy does and how it actually works.
[First, the caveats: hydrotherapy should be used in conjunction with proper nutrition, activity, and detoxification. The first rule in hydrotherapy is to treat the whole person and the treatments must be individualized. It may not be for everyone and should be utilized under the supervision and guidance of a Naturopathic Physician.]
So how does hydrotherapy work? Besides increasing vitality and waking up the senses, in a nutshell, it brings well-oxygenated, nutrient-rich blood to an area while carrying away metabolic and waste products. In addition, if an organ or area of the body is anemic or congested, it can help to either increase or decrease the total volume of blood to that area.
Here are five mechanisms of action that it has on the body.
There are many different applications of hydrotherapy and they should all individualized to the patient. I sincerely hope that you get the opportunity to experience the power of this simple therapy first hand in your life under the care and guidance of your Naturopathic Physician. Let's not underestimate it!