Hydrotherapy: What is it and how might it help you?

What is hydrotherapy?

Hydrotherapy refers to the use of water in order to alleviate pain and improve function. It has been used throughout time to promote healing and reduce unpleasant symptoms. While some hydrotherapy uses have been “debunked”, there are several applications that have been supported by science. For example, new research supports its use for speeding recovery after exercise.

Hydrotherapy can utilize both hot and cold water, depending on the desired result.

With the current research, it is best to assume that hydrotherapy (for the most part) serves to reduce symptoms, but not actually heal injuries. In one systematic review, they found that the use of hydrotherapy can improve physical function and quality of life in those with rheumatoid arthritis.

Coldwater therapy:

Coldwater can cause vasoconstriction, which allows blood to be shunted away from injured body parts and potentially reduce inflammation

Activation of PNS

Warm water therapy:

Utilizing warm water causes the blood vessels to dilate, which increases blood flow to remove toxic byproducts from an area, as well as allow for body parts to loosen and become more mobile.

When the body is exposed to warm temperatures of water, the body works to keep the body cool by causing vasodilation. Vasodilation causes the blood vessels to widen, which results in increased blood flow to the extremities and skin surface. This increased blood flow can bring nutrients and healing properties to the area of injury.

In addition to causing vasodilation, warm water exposure can also result in relaxation throughout the body. The endocrine system can become downregulated, which can result in overall relaxation, which both feels great and allows tight and painful body parts to loosen.

There are different applications for hydrotherapy, which can be used on a large or small scale. Full-body immersion tanks and whirlpools can be utilized to produce global effects in the body, while compresses can be used on local and specific areas.

Different Types of Hydrotherapy:

Aquatic Exercise

Exercise in a pool can work wonders for those who have chronic pain. The physics of water make exercise less painful through less resistance and less pressure on the body. Performing water aerobics or swimming can be a great way to get exercise without the pain. Some pools are heated or cooled for specific purposes

Cryotherapy/Cold Water Immersion

These cold-water baths may be available at some gyms, spas, and certain medical facilities.

Hot Compress

Cold Compress

Warm Baths

This is a great option for us who do not have access to a jacuzzi or whirlpool. A warm bath can provide full-body relaxation and promote decreased muscle tension. This can be used for the whole body, or used for specific parts, like the feet and ankles.

Whirlpool therapy

Note that hydrotherapy may not be for everyone! Changes in body temperature for certain individuals may cause unpleasant symptoms such as dizziness or faintness and can cause prolonged cardiovascular problems. So as always, seek out approval from your doctor before trying these therapies.

While the literature is still a bit hazy on certain types of hydrotherapy, many people have had great results anecdotally.


[1] The effect of post-exercise hydrotherapy on subsequent exercise performance and heart rate variability Jamie Stanley • Martin Buchheit • Jonathan M. Peake. Eur J Appl Physiol (2012) 112:951–961. DOI 10.1007/s00421-011-2052-7


The Effectiveness of Hydrotherapy in the Management

of Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Systematic Review

Khamis Y. Al-Qubaeissy MD, Francis A. Fatoye PhD, Peter C. Goodwin PhD &

Abebaw M. Yohannes* PhD, MSc, FCCP

[3] A Study of Hydrotherapy and Its Health Benefits.

Bahadorfar, Mozhdeh.

M.A in Physical education, India International Journal of Research (IJR) Vol-1, Issue-8, September 2014 ISSN 2348-6848.

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