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What is a Hydrotherapy Spa?

By Ann Olson
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A hydrotherapy spa is a type of spa that uses water to relieve pain and the symptoms caused by certain health conditions, such as arthritis and menstrual cramps. It was first used in ancient Greece and Rome, where the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates prescribed cold water treatments to treat general sickness. The Romans later popularized it by adding hydrotherapy spas to game rooms, gardens and even public theaters.

The hydrotherapy spa did not become popular in modern times until the 1800s. The practice of hydrotherapy died out during the Middle Ages but was revived in the 1800s when Vincent Priessnitz, a farmer, set up a hydrotherapy pool in the Czech Republic in 1829. He observing the health benefits experienced by his farm animals after bathing in nearby streams, and he thought humans would experience the same effects. In 1889, a priest in Bavaria established the first hydrotherapy spa as a place to heal and treat disease, which he believed was cured through the use of water.

Specialists who run modern hydrotherapy spas claim that the spas can treat the symptoms of numerous health conditions, including arthritis, hemorrhoids, menstrual cramps, the common cold, bronchitis and headaches. The most common type of treatment, called a warm water bath, reportedly alleviates some health conditions by having the person sit in a warm bath enhanced with Epsom salts, ginger, sea salt or aromatherapy oils. Hydrotherapy spa specialists claim that this alleviates pain caused by certain health conditions, such as arthritis or menstrual cramps.

Wrapping is another common method used in hydrotherapy clinics. The process involves wrapping a person with cold, wet sheets and having the person lie down, which reportedly forces the body to heat up in response and reduces the symptoms of the common cold, bronchitis or painful skin disorders. A less popular method, called the wet sock treatment, is the use of a wet sock placed on the area where the health ailment is causing the most trouble, such as on the chest or neck. Hydrotherapy spa specialists claim that this might reduce the severity of headaches, bronchitis or throat soreness.

Although most hydrotherapy treatments utilized in spas are safe, some treatments might be unsafe for diabetics. Any treatment that utilizes the application of a hot device should be avoided by people who have diabetes, making wet sock or warm bath treatments potentially unsafe for diabetics. Warm baths also are not recommended for pregnant women or anyone dealing with high blood pressure. The heat produced from certain hydrotherapy spa treatments also can cause dizziness and drowsiness.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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