You may not have heard the term hydrotherapy before, but chances are, you’ve already practiced it in some way, shape, or form throughout your daily life. The use of water to treat various conditions and states of the body is a principle that has prevailed throughout time and is widely in use today. From ancient Roman bathhouses to cold showers, humans have found diverse applications for perhaps the simplest of natural elements.
According to PubMed Central, “Hydrotherapy is the external or internal use of water in any of its forms (water, ice, steam) for health promotion or treatment of various diseases with various temperatures, pressure, duration, and site.” Types of hydrotherapy include aquatic massages, contrasting temperature therapy, warm water baths, cold showers, saunas, compresses, ice baths, steam rooms, and hydrotherapy pool exercises.
If this all is starting to sound like a day at the spa, you’re not far off. Among promoting relaxation and stress relief, hydrotherapy is also used to help with:
- The management of acute or chronic areas of pain within the body
- Relief of arthritic pain
- Improvement of muscle flexibility and strength
- Increased range of motion
- Weight loss
If you could use a little help with anything on that list (fatigue and stress, I’m looking at you), this blog is most definitely for you. I’m going to be taking some of the core principles and practices of hydrotherapy and combining them into an easy daily routine you can follow to make the most out of your favorite drink. And, if water isn’t your favorite drink, it should be. You can read why HERE. Let’s get started!
You can replace the time here with whatever time you normally wake up in the morning. The time you wake up isn’t important, but waking up at the same time every day is. Consistency will do wonders for your brainpower, energy, and productivity. The moment you wake up in the morning, you should try to down at least 16oz of room temperature water. Science hasn’t necessarily decided on the optimal temperature of water to consume in the morning, but room temperature water won’t shock your body and it’s great for ease of absorption. This is an important step at the start of any day because after 8 hours of sleep, your body will be experiencing some slight dehydration.
Time to hop in the shower, but here’s the trick. Instead of turning that faucet handle straight to the red, go ahead and twist it to cold instead. It might feel unpleasant at first, but the benefits outweigh the downsides, (and really, the actual temperature of the water is the only downside). Cold showers have been shown to increase circulation, energy, and muscle recovery, among other things.
Blood flow is the main appeal for this popular method of hydrotherapy. When the cold water hits your body, blood flows away from the skin and toward the vital organs. This constriction of blood also tightens the pores in your skin, keeping moisture locked in for longer, your skin looking smoother and your hair looking healthier. What’s not to love about that?
TIP: If you’re getting goosebumps just reading about a cold shower this early in the morning (like I am writing about one), try a variation. Take the first half of your shower warm, and then crank the handle to cold. Or, switch between warm and cold in 1-minute increments. Father Sebastian Kneipp, a 19th-century Bavarian monk who is said to be the father of modern hydrotherapy, coined this method of alternating between hot and cold water, and it’s supposed to amplify the benefits for your circulation.
Check-in with your body. If you’re starting to salivate for a sweet or salty snack, you might be mistaking your body’s need for water as a craving. With hydrotherapy, hydration is your friend. You’ll be spending a lot of time in water, but your insides still need it. Try to down another 16oz right now and save the snacks for another time. You might be surprised at how quickly your midmorning cravings go away when your hydration habits change.
Lunchtime! If you’ve got a minute, it might be time to try a compress. Compresses not only reduce stiffness, inflammation, and swelling, but they can ease sore muscles and promote blood flow. You may not have noticed any stiffness or soreness when you first woke up, but sitting in your office chair or standing at your desk for long periods of time without movement could definitely aggravate those conditions. Press a warm towel for 10-20 minutes on any affected area for soreness or stiffness. Place a cool towel for 10-20 minutes on any affected area for inflammation or swelling.
Starting to feel the afternoon slump? Instead of reaching for that third (or fourth? I don’t dare go any higher) cup of coffee, hydrate. 16oz of icy cold water will wake up your brain and let your organs breathe a little more deeply. Supplement with additional water through the afternoon as needed.
Hopefully, you’re off work, fed, and ready for some fun! You’ve got a couple of options here: if you like to work out in the evening, I’ve got some hydrotherapy techniques for you to incorporate into your exercise routine. Or, if you’re looking for something a little more interesting, I’ve got you covered there too.
After your normal workout routine, you have two drastically different choices. If you’re wanting to boost muscle recovery and kill chronic pain, it’s time for an ice bath. 1-3 minutes in an ice bath does wonders for muscle repair and workout recovery. Make sure you remember to breathe deeply and take a buddy with you to help in case the cold is too much. Your other option is a sauna. Most gyms have them, and if you’re fighting soreness and stiffness after your workout, take the sauna route. The dry and hot air will promote sweating, and you’ll come out feeling shiny and new. (You’ll actually just be really sweaty and probably in need of another shower, but it’s the feeling that counts.)
If you’re taking the night off from the gym, you might consider booking an aquatic massage. Check out spas near you to see what they offer. The general idea for aquatic massages plays on hydrotherapy’s penchant for relaxation and stress relief. You’ll float comfortably in a pool while an aquatic massage therapist performs massage techniques (in the pool). Try it out!
Back at home, and it’s probably about time to start winding down for bed. If your exercise endeavors have you sweating, or you’re just trying to lull your body closer to sleep, consider a warm bath or shower. Not only is this a known practice to help promote muscle relaxation, but “hot showers or baths activate the parasympathetic nervous system which makes us tired.”
If you choose to shower, make sure to moisturize well afterward. Hot water can disrupt the cells on the surface of our skin and make us more prone to getting, well, dried out. They can also make you itchy, but a good moisturizer should ameliorate any of that. If you take a relaxing bath, add some calming salts or oils to help your recovery. Just remember, if you add any essential oils to your bath, they need to be combined with a carrier oil, like jojoba, and preferably Epsom salts as well. You’ll avoid any damage to your skin, burning, or irritation. I usually add 2 cups of Epsom salts and soak for at least 20 minutes. When I’m feeling especially stressed or depleted (think headaches and muscle twitches) I use magnesium oil. Unlike snake oil, this stuff actually works to restore magnesium to your cells. I recommend a loading protocol for any of my clients that are chronically fatigued or in pain.
Now that you are relaxed and zen, it's time to be the mammal that you are. All mammals have the “mammalian dive response” which is triggered by diving underwater or getting your face wet. As soon as your nostrils get wet, your vagus nerve tells your heart to pump blood to your vital organs only. The response is a lowered heart rate as your blood constricts from your limbs and pools in your internal organs. A lowered heart rate (bradycardia if you are a scientist) is optimal for falling asleep and staying asleep. You don’t need to go jump in your pool or the lake to achieve this though. Just fill your sink with cold water and ice, hold your breath and plunge your face. This is sure to get your vagus nerve sending the mammalian signal to your heart. If you want to get really fancy, use this temperature gun and add enough ice to get your water to a cool 45 degrees.
Hydrotherapy is a wonderful practice that’s been around for probably about as long as humans have been around. There are many different methods of hydrotherapy, and it can treat anything ranging from chronic illnesses to everyday stiffness and swelling. If it’s not part of your practice already, it probably should be. And, as this article has (hopefully) shown you, it’s a lot easier to incorporate than you think.___