Hydrotherapy involves the application of water of varying temperatures for pain relief and health maintenance. Throughout history, hydrotherapy has taken many forms, such as healing baths and hot springs. Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician who is often called the father of western medicine, advocated bathing in spring water for sickness. More advanced modern treatments, which are covered as part of the massage courses in OVCMT’s two-year Massage Therapy Diploma program, include salt glow and scrub, clay packs, herbal wraps, contrast baths and paraffin wax. After a treatment, a massage therapist may recommend that a client applies hydrotherapy at home, and will provide specific instructions to ensure the safety and effectiveness of hydrotherapy for the client and his or her condition. These treatments coupled with professional care can greatly improve a client’s condition.
Here are some general information regarding hydrotherapy, which will be of interest for anyone considering pursuing a diploma from our Massage Therapy College.
Heat can be used to make muscles softer and more flexible, increase circulation, reduce pain and provide relaxation. It often comes in handy for relief of tight, achy muscles present in chronic conditions. At home, basic hot hydrotherapy can take the form of a hot bath, an electric heating pad or a microwaveable cloth bag. Heat is applied for up to 10-30 minutes at a time, and temperature should never be uncomfortably hot.
There are some precautions to take when using hot hydrotherapy. Heat is not used when swelling or bleeding are present, as it can increase blood flow to the area. Moreover, it’s not recommended to use heat over an infection or a burn. Lastly, if the client has circulatory conditions, such as high blood pressure, specific hydrotherapy applications may be required.
Cold hydrotherapy is used to reduce pain and decrease blood flow, and can minimize pain and swelling after an injury. At home, cold can be applied using ice or gel-filled ice packs, ice baths or cold, wet towels. To eliminate the risk of frostbite, ice and ice packs are wrapped in a small towel and not applied directly to the skin.
Cold is applied for 10-15 minutes, depending on the part of the body being iced, and it’s recommended to wait twenty minutes between applications. The massage therapist will advise the client on the ideal duration for his or her condition. Lastly, cold is also not advised if the client has insufficient circulation.
Contrast hydrotherapy is an application of heat followed by an application of cold. This increases blood flow to and from the area, which can speed healing. Contrasts are usually started with very minimal differences in temperature. A general guideline for the timing of heat and cold applications is three minutes of heat followed by one minute of cold. This can be repeated for up to thirty minutes. A simple application is a rule of threes: three minutes heat, thirty seconds of cold, three times.
There are a number of ways for a client to apply contrast hydrotherapy at home. The client can alternate hot and cold packs or hot and cold towels, depending on the body part being treated. For hands and forearms, the client can fill a two-sided kitchen sink with hot water on one side and cold on the other, and alternate between the two.
Again, the registered massage therapist will advise the client on whether or not contrast hydrotherapy is an appropriate solution. The client should be particularly cautious regarding contrast hydrotherapy if he or she has high, low or irregular blood pressure.