The word hydrotherapy is of Greek origin, derived from the words “Hydro” meaning water, and “Therapia”, which means healing. Hydrotherapy has a long, rich history as a healthcare treatment dating back to ancient Egypt, India, Greece and China. Many cultures across the globe have used water to relieve discomfort and promote wellbeing, including:
• The mineral springs of South America
• The great baths of Europe
• India’s Ayurvedic steam treatments
• Russian banyas
• Turkish bath houses
• Native American sweat lodges
Practitioners use temperature to customize the effects of hydrotherapeutic techniques. Hot applications reduce activity in the body’s endocrine system, which in turn produces an overall calming effect and can help reduce blood pressure. Cold techniques encourage blood vessels to constrict and stimulates the endocrine system, which helps reduce inflammation and combat fatigue. Hydrotherapy is practiced in health spas, multidisciplinary clinics, rehabilitation facilities and by RMTs as part of a holistic approach to natural healthcare.
We’ll look at how RMTs utilize hydrotherapy as a primer for massage and range of motion exercises, and how hot and cold water therapies can be incorporated into patient self-care routines to optimize wellness between appointments.
In cases where range of motion is impaired by muscle tension, injury or arthritis, hot hydrotherapy is often used to soften tissues before massage is applied. RMTs use a range of applications to facilitate relaxation and “warm up” the musculoskeletal system before engaging in deep tissue work and ROM exercises. Typical hot hydrotherapy approaches include:
• Thermophores (electric heating pads)
• Hydrocollator packs (heated clay packs)
• Hot water basins for extremities
• Hot showers
• Infrared sauna
In addition to prepping patients for massage, hot hydrotherapy encourages the production of endorphins which help alleviate pain, stimulate the immune system, and encourage tissues to heal faster. However, RMTs will also use cold therapy techniques, such as ice packs and cold water basins when inflammation is present in order to reduce swelling and alleviate pain. Combined with massage and range of motion exercises, hot and cold hydrotherapy can be highly effective in helping patients recover from constricted muscles and reduced mobility.
During their massage therapy training, students learn that patients can engage in self-care exercises in order to extend and enhance the benefits of massage between appointments. Massage college courses typically include instruction on both hot and cold hydrotherapeutic techniques that may be incorporated into a customized self-care routine, including:
• Hot baths, possibly infused with herbs or oils to relax sore muscles and joints, stimulate circulation and facilitate detoxification
• A hot bath followed by a cold shower to stimulate both body and mind, relieving stress and persistent fatigue
• Alternating hot and cold compresses (or water basins) to stimulate circulation and decrease swelling and pain in targeted areas
• Warm baths infused with Epsom salt to help to pull toxins like lactic acid from muscles and allow the body to absorb magnesium and sulfates, which improve muscle function and joint health
RMTs with an understanding of hydrotherapy are able to develop versatile, highly effective treatment plans for patients - and share simple strategies that can be practiced at home as part of an ongoing wellness routine. As they progress through their massage therapist training, students will have the opportunity to apply various forms of hydrotherapy while working with patients at the college clinic and through the outreach program.
In what ways have you found hydrotherapy useful in conjunction with massage?