Hildegard’s successor in monastic medicine, Sebastian Kneipp, considered water therapy important for the prevention of illness and to promote general well-being. Today, modern medicine recognizes the value of temperature stimulation on the body. Hydrotherapy can be an effective tool, using water in the treatment of medical conditions.
Water Applications using Hot and Cold Baths
The practice of water treatment includes exposure to both cold and warm water, as well as intermittent warm water, hot water, and steam. Applications can vary widely, but generally include one or more of the following:
- Wrapping the body or area with a cloth or towel;
- The use of running water, including showers;
- The use of hydrostatic pressure, via full or partial baths;
- Treatments without hydrostatic pressure, such as saunas or steam baths.
The Benefits of Hydrotherapy
Cold-water stimulus leads to vasoconstriction, or the narrowing of blood vessels in the skin, resulting in a reduction of cutaneous blood flow. Cold-water stimulation can be an effective treatment for subsurface vascular issues, such as varicose veins.
After a short period of cold water exposure, the blood flow increases, and a pleasant feeling of warmth sets-in. Benefits of cold-water treatments include:
- Improved overall blood circulation to help alleviate persistent cold hands or feet;
- Long-term improvement in circulation from cold water exposure can strengthen the immune system and promote lymphatic drainage, thus making the elimination of waste from the body more efficient;
- Improved overall nutrient supply for cell growth and density. For example, one can significantly reduce the frequency of common colds by applying very cold water to the legs for 20 seconds after your normal shower;
- Cold water stimulation helps release stress hormones like adrenalin. Through frequent and repeated cold-water applications, the body adapts to the stress stimulus and reacts in an increasingly more economical manner. The desensitized stress response means less adrenaline is secreted in stressful conditions.
Warm-water applications have other far-reaching benefits, such as:
- Warm baths can enhance metabolism;
- We know about the benefits of warm water acting as a muscle relaxant, which is particularly useful for relieving muscle fatigue after exercise;
- Warm water baths can also be helpful to combat stress and rheumatic issues.
- Warm water can promote physical relaxation, which helps encourage mental relaxation, and a sense of calm.
Discretion in Water Treatments
In the case of all water treatments, it’s important to observe the existing heat balance of a person’s body. Cold-water applications may not be the best fit for someone who has a particular sensitivity to cold temperatures or other conditions that may impact normal body temperature regulation.
It is not advisable to treat cold parts of the body with hot water applications, or, alternatively to treat a fever or otherwise elevated temperatures with the application of hot water. Warm parts of the body, however, tolerate cold-water applications very well.
Wet and Dry: drinking and drainage
A healthy body needs plenty of water. We lose about 2 to 3 quarts of fluid through the kidneys, skin, intestines, and respiratory systems each day. To compensate for this loss, our bodies signal a thirst response, indicating that we drink more water.
An adult requires between half an ounce and an ounce of water for each pound of body weight. I.e, if you weigh 150 pounds, you require between 75 to 150 ounces of water per day. But sometimes the body’s thirst response fails, or lags the body’s actual hydration needs. Too much coffee or alcohol can interfere with our body’s natural signaling of thirst.
It is important to remain conscious of your liquid intake throughout the day. Remember, coffee, black tea, and alcoholic beverages should not be counted in your daily total water intake as they tend to extract water from the body.
Drainage for Increased Well Being
It is possible to have too much water. You may have experienced water-retention; the tell-tale sign of swelling in the legs and feet. But less visible symptoms can cause damage to the heart and circulatory system as too much water can elevate blood pressure. If your legs feel heavy and tense, this may be a sign of retaining water.
There are a number of plants recommended in naturopathy for stimulating kidney function, and which have a diuretic effect. Swimming and full baths provide some natural stimulation of renal functions, due to water pressure.
Full submersion in water serves as a useful supplement to an effective drainage regimen including healing herbs and drainage tees.