Dating back to Ancient Greece and used across cultures over millennia to reduce pain and encourage healing, hydrotherapy is one of the oldest forms of natural medicine.
Through detailed observation, Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, concluded that our health is governed by a vital force that is constantly working to maintain normal balance in structure and function within the body when confronted with injuries and disease, believing hydrotherapy to be a key healing resource (1).
Despite conducting his observations and analysis over two thousand years ago, his theories on hydrotherapy were not off the mark. And though the precise mechanisms are still a mystery, the evidence-based results are astounding.
The Law of Disease and Toxicity
The Law of Disease, according to my book, ‘The Serpent & The Butterfly: The Seven Laws of Healing,’ states that disease is an imbalance caused by three things: toxicity, deficiency, and lack of energy. Essentially, our bodies are constantly engaging with our environment, but when the environment is compromised so are our bodies. And what with air pollution, man-made chemicals, and all that goes along with living in a modern world, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to live a non-toxic lifestyle. With increasing toxicity, oxygen and nutrients are inadequately delivered, and oxidative damage is allowed to run amok.
As we speak, millions of Americans are already struggling with a chronic disease—obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease—making it more important than ever to focus on boosting our natural vitality (4). By supporting and enhancing the efficacy of our vital force and pathways of detoxification, we can improve the function of all of our body’s most important organs and, thus, our overall health.
Benefits of Hydrotherapy
There are many ways to approach detoxification. Of course, the appropriate approach depends entirely upon the diagnosis, so before proceeding to treatment, it’s always best to consult your naturopathic doctor or specialist. However, hydrotherapy is a simple way to approach detoxification and improve your body’s everyday functions.
Hydrotherapy is known to improve our body’s natural vitality by aiding detoxification, relieving inflammation and pain in muscles and joints, enhancing relaxation and relieving stress, increasing metabolic processes, lowering blood pressure, and stimulating blood flow to vital muscles and organs, to name only a few of many benefits (2,3).
It also has many benefits for the body’s largest organ—the skin.
Hydrotherapy and the Skin
The skin is one of the main organs of elimination and a significant pathway of detoxification. When our other organs of elimination, such as our liver, kidneys, gastrointestinal tract, and lungs, get compromised, it can increase the burden on our skin to process and eliminate toxins from the body. And compromised detoxification pathways can reveal themselves in the form of various skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis or acne.
Steam, for instance, when used appropriately, can be incredibly beneficial for the skin. Not only is it deeply cleansing by allowing the skin and pores to become more pliable and loosens dirt and trapped sebum, but it also improves circulation, ensuring the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the skin and promotes the production of collagen and elastin. Because of this, it can increase the skin’s ability to heal itself and promote basic functions, which aids in strengthening the skin barrier to retain moisture better. In all, by folding regular hydrotherapy routines into our daily lives, our skin will only reap the benefits.
Naturally, it’s important to consult your dermatologist, naturopathic doctor, or integrative health professional before diagnosing and treating yourself. But, there are a number of ways in which you can use hydrotherapy at home to support detoxification to improve your skin and overall health.
How Does Hydrotherapy Work?
Let’s take a closer look: Cold water stimulates the body, causing the constriction of surface blood vessels, directing blood to vital organs. On the other hand, hot water relaxes the body, causing the dilation of blood vessels, directing the removal of bodily waste. Thus, by alternating between hot and cold, we’re helping our body stimulate circulation, decrease inflammation, and improve homeostasis—allowing the body to naturally heal itself (3).
Many different types of hydrotherapy methods exist, from high-tech cryotherapy chambers to massaging jet tubs, but with less access to health centers and spas, we must get creative. Thankfully, there are a few easy ways to take advantage of its healing effects at home. This can include steam rooms and saunas, hot springs, showers and baths rich in magnesium salts, and foot soaks.
If possible, take advantage of any nearby waters, as swimming in cold rivers, lakes, and oceans can significantly decrease tension, pain, and fatigue while increasing memory and mood (3). Generally, it’s best to always end with some form of cold, even if it’s 30–60 seconds in a cold shower.
Easy At-Home Hydrotherapy Treatments
Of course, there are plenty of no to low-cost hydrotherapy treatments you can achieve at home, such as facial steaming or soothing baths rich in essential oils and magnesium salts. Still, suppose you’re looking to obtain the full benefits of hydrotherapy. In that case, contrast treatments can easily be carried out at home in thirty minutes or less using just a few household items:
While lying flat on your back, cover the anterior torso with two large hot hand towels folded in half (four thicknesses or layers of terry cloth) soaked in hot water (tolerant to touching) and leave in place for five minutes.
Replace hot towels with one cold large hand towel folded in half (two thicknesses or layers of terry cloth), leaving in place ten minutes or longer until the towel is warmed.
Cover the body with a blanket (preferably wool or Vellux) to retain body heat during the length of treatment.
Repeat the entire procedure on your posterior torso while lying face down.
*This version might require someone assisting you in placing the towels.
Immerse the entire body in a hot bath or shower for five minutes.
Then, dry quickly with a towel and soak another towel in cold water, wring out completely, and wrap around both sides of the torso, or from armpit to groin.
Cover the body with wool or Vellux blanket, leaving the cold towel wrapped for twenty minutes, or longer, until the towel is warmed.
Dr. Reebs Bio:
Dr. Reebs mission is to elevate health and well-being through naturopathic medicine. He is an award-winning naturopathic doctor and the founder of Portland Clinic of Natural Health; an integrative medicine clinic that specializes in helping to resolve chronic disease with natural medicine; the author of, “The Serpent & The Butterfly: The Seven Laws of Healing” which offers a life-altering perspective on the attainment of optimal health; a recognized leading expert in mind-body healing and alternative medicine.
- Fioranelli M., Gianfaldoni R., Gianfaldoni S., Grazia Roccia M., Lotti T., Tchernev G., Wollina U. History of the Baths and Thermal Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5535692/.
- Upendra Nagaich, Dr. Hydrotherapy: Tool for preventing illness. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4932807/#:~:text=The%20advantages%20of%20hydrotherapy%20comprise,improving%20skin%20and%20muscle%20tone.
- Mooventhan A, Nivethitha L. Scientific Evidence-Based Effects of Hydrotherapy on Various Systems of the Body. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4049052/
- Tackling the Burden of Chronic Diseases in the USA. The Lancet. Volume 373, Issue 9659, P185, JANUARY 17, 2009. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(09)60048-9/fulltext