Hydrotherapy: A Simple, Elegant and Safe Approach
to Common Health Problems
In this age of high-tech, invasive, pharmaceutically-oriented medicine, a therapeutic technique as simple and elegant as hydrotherapy may resonate with some people on the same level as drums and feathers. However, hydrotherapy's effectiveness is rooted in sound scientific principles and ancient healing traditions.
Hydrotherapy is the use of water in any of its forms (liquid, gas, solid), internally or externally for the maintenance of health or the treatment of disease. In hydrotherapy, water changes the environment of the body to achieve a physiologic response.
Hydrotherapy was used effectively for the treatment of disease and injury by the ancient Egyptians, Persians, Babylonians, Romans, Greeks, Hebrews, Hindus and Chinese. Hippocrates (400-500 B.C.), the father of modern medicine, used water of varying temperatures applied to different parts of the body to help bring about healing in a variety of medical conditions. In the nineteenth Century and into the twentieth Century, the great spas of Europe focused on the therapeutic application of water in settings akin to the grand hotels. In Germany in the mid-1800's, Father Sebastian Kneipp began using cold water washes and warm wraps with sick nuns and parishioners. Kneipp's was so successful that his reputation as a natural healer spread throughout Germany and Austria and sick Europeans began flocking to his parish. His patients ranged from members of the nobility to farmers and peasants.
The stories of Kneipp's successes spread to the United States at the turn of the nineteenth Century and hydrotherapy establishments, many of them associated with church groups, were founded in various parts of the country. One of the most famous of these was established by John Harvey Kellogg (the corn flakes inventor) in Battle Creek, Michigan. Kellogg's clinic was humorously satirized in a recent book and movie titled "The Road to Wellville." In modern times, hydrotherapy has become one of the main therapeutic tools of naturopathic physicians and religious organizations, such as Seventh Day Adventists.
On a physiological level, hydrotherapy stimulates healing by enhancing oxygenation and stimulating the circulation of blood and lymph. It promotes more complete digestion and assimilation of food and improves the biochemical uptake and utilization of nutrients by the cells. It causes and increases the mobilization of toxic metabolic by-products and forces their elimination from overburdened organs and tissues. Throughout the process of hydrotherapy, the body's immune function is strengthened as immune system cells are stimulated to circulate throughout the body.
Although there are numerous hydrotherapy techniques, one technique that I have used with great success with patients is called the wet sock treatment.