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The Benefits of Hydrotherapy

Hydrotherapy is the use of water to heal and ease a variety of ailments and the water may be used in a variety of different ways. The healing properties of water have been recognised since ancient times, notably by the Greek, Roman and Turkish civilisations but also by people in Europe and China. Most people know the benefits of a hot bath in relaxing the body, relieving muscular aches and stiffness and helping to bring about restful sleep. Hot water or steam causes blood vessels to dilate, opens skin pores and stimulates perspiration, relaxing limbs and muscles. Cold water acts in the opposite way and is refreshing and invigorating. The cold causes blood vessels in the skin to constrict and blood is diverted to internal tissues and organs to maintain the core temperature of the body. Applications of cold water or ice reduce swelling and bruising and cause skin pores to close.

In orthodox medicine, hydrotherapy is used as a technique of physiotherapy for people recovering from serious injuries with problems of muscle wastage. Also, it is used for people with joint problems and those with severe physical disabilities. Many hospitals also offer the choice of water birth to expectant mothers and this has become an increasingly popular method of childbirth. Hydrotherapy may be offered as a form of treatment for other medical conditions in naturopathy, using the techniques listed above. It is wise to obtain medical advice before proceeding with hydrotherapy and this is especially important for elderly people, children and those with serious conditions or illnesses.

Hot baths are used to ease muscle and joint pains and inflammation. Also, warm or hot baths, with the addition of various substances such as seaweed extract to the water, may be used to help the healing of some skin conditions or minor wounds. After childbirth, frequent bathing in warm water to which a mild antiseptic has been added, is recommended to heal skin tears.

Most people know the relaxing benefits of a hot bath. A bath with the temperature between 36.5 and 40.0 degrees centigrade is very useful as a means of muscle relaxation. To begin with, five minutes immersion in a bath of this temperature is enough. This can be increased to up to ten minutes a day, as long as no feelings of weakness or dizziness arise. It is important to realise that a brief hot bath has quite a different effect from a long one.

There is nothing to be gained in prolonging a hot bath in the hope of increasing the benefit. Immersion in hot water acts not only on the surface nerves but also on the autonomic nervous system, as well as the hormone producing glands, particularly the adrenals, which become less active. A hot bath is a sedative but a hot bath that is prolonged into a long soak has quite the opposite effect.

Cold baths are used to improve blood flow to internal tissues and organs and to reduce swellings. The person may sit for a moment in shallow cold water with additional water being splashed onto exposed skin. An inflamed, painful part may be immersed in cold water to reduce swelling. The person is not allowed to become chilled and this form of treatment is best suited for those able to dry themselves rapidly with a warm towel. It is not advisable for people with serious conditions or for the elderly or for the very young.

There are many nerve endings on the skin surface and these will deal with the reception of stimuli. More of these are cold receptors than heat receptors. If water of a different temperature to that of the skin is applied, it will either conduct heat to it or absorb heat from it. These stimuli have an influence on the sympathetic nervous system and can effect the hormonal system. The greater the difference between the temperature of the skin and the water applied, the greater will be the potential for physiological reaction. Conversely, water that is the same temperature as the body has a marked relaxing and sedative effect on the nervous system. This of value in states of stress and has led to the development of the so called 'neutral bath'.

Before the development of tranquilisers, the most dependable and effective method of calming an agitated patient was the use of a neutral bath. The patient was placed in a tub of water, the temperature of which was maintained at between 33.5 and 35.6 degrees centigrade, often for over three hours and sometimes for as long as twenty four hours. Obviously, this is not a practical proposition for the average tense person.

As a self help measure, the neutral bath does, however, offer a means of sedating the nervous system if used for relatively short periods. It is important to maintain the water temperature at the above level and for this a bath thermometer should be used. The bathroom itself should be kept warm to avoid any chill in the air.

Half an hour of immersion in a bath like this will have a sedative, or even soporific, effect. It places no strain on the heart, circulation or nervous system and achieves muscular relaxation as well as a relaxation and expansion of the blood vessels: all of these effects promote relaxation. The bath can be used in conjunction with other methods of relaxation, such as breathing techniques and meditation, to make it an even more efficient way of wiping out stress. It can be used daily if necessary.

Steam baths, along with saunas and Turkish baths, are used to encourage sweating and the opening of skin pores and have a cleansing and refreshing effect. The body may be able to eliminate harmful substances in this way and treatment finishes with a cool bath.

Sitz baths are usually given as a treatment for painful conditions with broken skin, such as piles or anal fissure and also for ailments affecting the urinary and genital organs. The person sits in a specially designed bath that has two compartments, one with warm water and one with cold. First, the person sits in the warm water, which covers the lower abdomen and hips, with the feet in the cold water compartment. After three minutes, the patient changes round and sits in the cold water with the feet in the warm compartment.

Hot and cold sprays of water may be given for a number of different but are recommended for those with serious illnesses, elderly people or young people.

Wrapping is used for feverish conditions, backache and bronchitis. A cold wet sheet that has been squeezed out is wrapped around the person, followed by a dry sheet and warm blanket. These are left in place until the inner sheet has dried and the coverings are then removed. The body is sponged with tepid water (at blood heat) before being dried with a towel. Sometimes the wrap is applied to a smaller area of the body, such as the lower abdomen, to ease a particular problem, usually constipation.

Andrew Tomkinson is a writer of articles on health related subjects. He also recommends fitness, health and nutrition products and services to improve your lifestyle and well being. Do you want to be healthier, have a better quality of life and take full advantage of the opportunities open to you? GO HERE-
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