Hydrotherapy - the use of water for pain relief or to maintain health - can take many forms. The principle that water can be used to aid healing has been recognized in several cultures throughout history, including ancient Greece, Indian Ayurvedic medicine and many Native American.
Today's massage therapists integrate hydrotherapy applications to their treatments, adjusting water temperature and the method of application to achieve different desired outcomes. Hot hydrotherapy can be used to soften muscles, improve blood pressure, and reduce activity in the body’s endocrine system, while cold techniques stimulate the endocrine system by encouraging blood vessels to constrict.
While hydrotherapy is often used in massage therapy as a primer for range-of-motion exercises and other massage techniques, RMTs are also taught a variety of hydrotherapy modalities that have numerous benefits for patients as standalone treatments.
The following are just some of the hydrotherapy modalities OVCMT students become familiar with during Year One of their massage therapy program.
Hydrotherapy modalities which promote healthier skin are particularly popular in wellness spas and holistic health centres. One of the most effective of these modalities is salt glow treatment, in which the therapist applies a scrub of salt and essential oils to a patient to exfoliate and remove old skin cells, rehydrating and smoothening skin.
Students in registered massage therapist education are also taught procedures that can help with skin problems such as eczema or acne using clay packs, a thick paste made from a mixture of purified water and specially prepared healing clay, which has a detoxifying effect on the skin. Clay packs have also proven beneficial in the treatment of other ailments such as rheumatic illnesses, liver, and kidney problems.
Paraffin wax treatment is another hydrotherapy modality with a wide range of benefits. The petroleum-based wax acts as a natural emollient to soften skin and increase its elasticity, improving range of motion. In addition, the heat from the wax increases blood flow and relaxes muscles. Because of this, paraffin wax treatments are useful in relieving symptoms of arthritis, osteoarthritis, and fibromyalgia, as well as treating muscle, tendon, and ligament ailments.
Affusion involves applying streams of water to coat a patient’s body or a specific body part, and is an important part of RMT training. Affusions can be applied using either hot or cold water, depending on the desired outcome of treatment. The pressure applied and the amount of times application is repeated can also vary, depending on the issue being treated.
Another closely related hydrotherapy modality is a contrast bath, where the affected area of the body is immersed in both cold and warm water baths in quick succession. This contrasting effects of the differing temperatures increases the blood flow, which helps to accelerate the healing process.
In addition to the conditions already mentioned, hydrotherapy can be effective in the treatment of depression, headaches and stomach problems. It can increase a patient’s metabolic rate, and improve the function of internal organs by stimulating blood flow. With so many potential benefits, a comprehensive knowledge of hydrotherapy modalities is essential for anyone looking to become a registered massage therapist.
Are you interested in learning about more therapeutic applications of water in massage? Visit OVCMT to see what else students learn during our massage therapy program.