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Hydrotherapy uses water to prevent or cure diseases. Based on the symptoms and the patient's constitution, warm, cold or hot water or steam is used.
Hydrotherapy includes around a hundred different variations. These include, for example, washes, steam applications, rubdowns, saunas, wraps, pads and medical baths with various additives, castings, arm and foot baths, hip baths, dew kicks and treading water.
Depending on the desired effect, the applications for the patient are selected, duration and intensity are defined. In hydrotherapy, both small stimuli, for example in the form of washes, but also strong stimuli, such as whole-body wraps, are used.
Hydrotherapy is an irritant therapy and belongs to the physical therapies. The process is scientifically recognized. The positive effect of hydrotherapy on various clinical pictures is well documented.
Origin of hydrotherapy
The healing power of water was already known in ancient times. In the 18th century, Johann and Sigmund Hahn brought this therapy back to life. In the 19th century Vinzenz Prießnitz became known for its various water applications. It was he who continued to develop hydrotherapy. At about the same time Sebastian treated Kneipp with the forces of water.
Effect of hydrotherapy
The hydrotherapy works with warm and cold stimuli of the water. This causes the body to react and adapt. The parts of the body exposed to water can either be cooled or warmed in a short time. The cold or warm stimuli not only have a local effect, they also have an effect on the entire organism. Circulation, nervous system, metabolism and immune system are influenced by the stimuli of the water. The hydrotherapy should also have a positive effect on skin and connective tissue, breathing, kidneys, muscles and internal secretion. With regular use, a kind of training effect sets in, so that the body adapts faster and better to heat and cold stimuli. This should lead to hardening.
Improve blood circulation
Warm stimuli bring warmth to the body. This contributes to calming, relaxing and promoting blood circulation. Cold stimuli cause the vessels to contract at first, but then extend far. This also contributes to improved blood circulation. The tissue is supplied with more blood, the lymph circulates better and the excretion function of the skin is supported.
Stimuli affect internal organs
The temperature stimuli of the water absorbed through the skin address internal organs via so-called cutivisceral reflex arches. The skin absorbs stimuli, which has a reflex effect in organs of the same segment. Depending on the initial situation of the person concerned and depending on the type of application, this can lead to stimulation or even calming of the organism.
Detoxification performance of the body
Temperature stimuli in hydrotherapy promote blood circulation in the tissue, which also stimulates the release of toxins (toxins) to the outside. This effect can be further enhanced by adding various detoxifying substances, such as in the case of wraps and pads, to which, for example, quark or essential oils are added.
Arndt-Schulz law and hydrotherapy
Rudolf Arndt and Hugo Schulz dealt with stimulus therapy at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. They justified the law named after them, which states that small stimuli fuel life activity, medium-strength stimuli promote life activity and strong stimuli inhibit life activity. Irritation therapy uses various methods that are supposed to cause certain reactions. Examples of this are cold water, warm water, fasting, autologous blood and homeopathy. The body is given a small, medium or strong stimulus, after which an answer is expected.
It is the same with hydrotherapy, which corresponds to the naturopathic principle of “helping people to help themselves”. It is also one of the stimulus therapies. The Arndt-Schulz Act mentioned above is also used here.
The chosen stimulus must be adapted to the initial situation, the constitution and the patient's illness. In hydrotherapy, washes, dry brushes and partial castings are mild stimuli. Moderate stimuli are achieved, for example, by sitting baths, saunas and half baths. The strong stimuli include overheating baths and full flash castings.
Different water temperatures
Cold in hydrotherapy means up to 18 degrees Celsius, warm is between 36 and 38 degrees Celsius, hot includes temperatures between 39 and 41 degrees Celsius.
Cold water is mostly used in acute events, such as acute inflammation. Warm water, on the other hand, is more used in chronic conditions. Cold applications are never carried out on cold skin. Before that, the skin must be warmed up, for example by a hot foot bath. The known calf wraps are also not effective as long as the patient has cold feet.
Application of hydrotherapy
Hydrotherapy is used, for example, for cardiovascular diseases, disorders of the immune system, rheumatic diseases and metabolic diseases. The calming and relaxing effect of the water stimulus can also calm your mind and soul. The water applications are used preventively, for acute but also for chronic diseases. In the following we present some important applications of hydrotherapy.
Wraps and packs
Individual parts of the body or the entire body are covered with a damp cloth. A larger, dry cloth is placed on the damp inner cloth. A wrap that covers more than two thirds of the body is called a pack. Cold, hot or lukewarm wraps are used, depending on the indication. Cold wraps support blood circulation and stimulate blood pressure. Hot wraps are more relaxing, soothing, and lower blood pressure. To increase the effect, additives such as chamomile, curd cheese, salt or horsetail are often added to the wraps and packs. The lukewarm wraps are used, for example, as calf wraps to lower the temperature in case of fever.
There are also partial or whole body applications here. In the case of partial washes, the individual parts of the body are washed off in a circular motion using a sponge. The direction of movement always goes from the heart to the outside. Then parts of the body or the whole body are covered with dry cloths, but not dried. Ablutions are said to promote blood circulation, boost metabolism, have a detoxifying effect and reduce fever.
Baths are primarily intended for relaxation and relaxation. Gymnastic exercises in water are carried out for joint diseases, fractures or spinal complaints. Partial applications in the form of partial baths with warm or cold water are said to alleviate pain and stabilize the circulation.
The effect of hydrotherapy has been scientifically well proven for certain symptoms. Nevertheless, you should clarify with your doctor before the start of such therapy whether hydrotherapy is suitable for you.
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Susanne Waschke, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch
- Bierbach, Elvira (ed.): Naturopathic practice today. Textbook and atlas. Elsevier GmbH, Urban & Fischer Verlag, Munich, 4th edition 2009
- Medical Association for Preventive Medicine and Classic Naturopathy, Kneippärztebund e.V .: Hydrotherapy, (accessed 10.10.2019), kneippaerztebund.de
- Rainer Brenke: Hydrotherapy and sauna for cardiovascular diseases, Journal of Complementary Medicine 2018; 10 (05): 46-51, DOI: 10.1055 / a-0715-7504, (access 10.10.2019), thieme