Hydrotherapy is a form of physical therapy where exercises are performed in shallow pools under the guidance of a physiotherapist.
Hydrotherapy, a type of physiotherapy, is the use of water to treat musculoskeletal diseases, stress, anxiety, and general fatigue. It may be used as a therapeutic approach for musculoskeletal symptoms or as a post-surgical rehabilitation to strengthen the muscles and relieve stress on the joints. Using hydrotherapy as a nonpharmacological pain reliever during childbirth is gaining popularity as well.
Though hot water showers, saunas, warm-cold compresses, cleanses, and steam baths are all included in the scope of hydrotherapy, this discussion is limited to the hydrotherapy conducted by the physiotherapists, which is backed by strong research.
Hydrotherapy is typically done in specialized swimming pools. The sessions entail specific exercises done in a shallow pool with warm water at 91.4 to 96.8°F under the supervision of a physiotherapist. People need not know how to swim to utilize hydrotherapy since they can use floats to stay above the water surface. The water temperature, pressure, and movement are controlled according to the condition and exercise protocol.
After a thorough evaluation by the physiotherapist, people are taught to undertake different exercises in water. These include underwater walking, stretching, and practicing certain postures in water. The session generally lasts for about 45 minutes. Once people have learned these exercises, they can perform these later in their local pool. Hydrotherapy undertaken during labor lasts about two to two and half hours.
What are the uses of hydrotherapy?
Hydrotherapy works on the principle that water treatment can soothe and calm the mind, as well as take the weight off a painful joint while providing resistance. This form of physical therapy has been used in individuals with arthritis, lower back pain, sports injuries, and fibromyalgia (a health condition causing generalized musculoskeletal pain along with fatigue, sleep, memory, and mood disturbances) with reasonable success.
The use of water therapy has also been shown to provide the following health benefits:
- Increases blood flow
- Regulate the immune system
- Improve digestion
- Reduce inflammation (when alternating between cold and hot water)
Numerous studies have proven that the use of supervised hydrotherapy during labor in uncomplicated pregnancies is safe for both the woman and the newborn. It is an effective pain relief strategy that promotes normal childbirth and helps avoid opioids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
How effective is hydrotherapy?
Scientific studies have shown that hydrotherapy improves the strength and fitness of people with arthritis and muscle stiffness. The customized exercise protocol gradually helps build joint strength and flexibility.
The specific water temperature allows sore muscles to relax, which helps with anxiety, insomnia, and mood disorders in many individuals. Because the water supports body weight, those who are obese and have severe pain moving their back and knees while exercising can inculcate hydrotherapy as a part of their fitness regimen. Additionally, water provides resistance to joints, improving their range of motion.
Hydrotherapy during labor is different from a water birth where the baby is delivered underwater. Hydrotherapy is only used during labor but not during delivery. People can pair hydrotherapy and water birth together in many hospital settings for a fulfilling and pain-free birth experience. A special shallow bathtub is often used for this purpose and not swimming pools.
What else do I need to consider while having hydrotherapy?
Hydrotherapy is a safe therapeutic approach for most individuals provided it is done in hygienic pools and under trained supervision. Some people report headaches, giddiness, nausea, and chills after a session, but these are short-lived.
However, there are certain situations where people may not be able to do hydrotherapy, including:
It is best to consult with a doctor and physiotherapist before starting hydrotherapy. Besides, hydrotherapy cannot replace the conventional treatments and drugs for advanced joint and musculoskeletal conditions.
Medically Reviewed on 10/14/2021
Versus Arthritis. What Is Hydrotherapy? https://www.versusarthritis.org/about-arthritis/treatments/therapies/hydrotherapy/
Michigan Medicine. Hydrotherapy. https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/tr3554spec