Hydrotherapy is the use of water to treat disease or illness. Water has been used to treat disease since ancient times. Hydrotherapy can include the use of whirlpools, sitz baths, sauna and steam baths, douches, and other treatments.
Who is a candidate for the procedure?
Many conditions are treated, at least in part, with hydrotherapy. The condition or disease determines the type of therapy used. Hydrotherapy has been used for wound care, to increase blood flow and improve circulation, for relaxation, and to reduce anxiety.
How is the procedure performed?
A whirlpool may be used as part of the treatment for certain types of wounds. It can help reduce inflammation by increasing blood flow to the wound. Other benefits include cleansing of the wound and relieving pain. Typical treatment includes placing the person in a warm whirlpool once or twice a day for 20 minutes. The wound is rinsed with clean water afterward.
The steam baths and saunas commonly found in spas or gyms are usually not used medically. However, they are often used to make people feel better or for treating muscle strains. Most experts advise people not to spend more than 15 to 20 minutes in either a steam bath or sauna. Neither of these is advised for pregnant women or people with infections, lung or heart diseases, or circulation or blood vessel problems.
A douche involves pouring running water gently over an area of the body. Typical sites are knee, ankle and feet. The water is usually kept at body temperature or lower. This procedure may relieve tension and pain or stimulate blood flow. Most women are also familiar with vaginal douches that are used for personal hygiene.
An immersion bath or sitz bath is used to relieve back pain, sore muscles and body aches due to flu or colds. The bath also promotes relaxation and helps to relieve mild anxiety. The bath is kept at body temperature or a little warmer. People with heart problems, circulation problems, numbness, hemorrhoids, or varicose veins should check with their healthcare professional before using this therapy.
Cool baths are sometimes used for sprains, to relieve itchy rashes, or for swelling. Other types of water therapy are also used in some settings.
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The Wound Care Information Network, Whirlpool in Wound Care By Carrie Sussman, PT, Information for the article is reprinted with permission, Chapter on Whirlpool By Sussman C. and Byl, N., From: Wound Care Collaborative Practice Manual for Physical Therapists and Nurses, Aspen Publishers 1998