We all have a memory of burning a finger and a family member running it under cold water for instant relief. Or, when stress has our shoulders tight and clenched, the amazing feeling of unwinding in a soothing, hot bath. We intuitively use water to feel better and that is the power of hydrotherapy.
Hydrotherapy means using water in any of its three forms: solid, liquid or vapor, to produce a therapeutic outcome.
These forms would include ice, hot water, cold water, steam, packs, baths, and showers. Hydrotherapy is an inexpensive, easily available, and simple method of healing that has been used for as long as humans have been around. Egyptian hieroglyphics show depictions of hydrotherapy; and ancient Romans, Greeks, Indians, and Chinese have all used water as part of their medicinal practices.
In the mid-1800’s the “Father of Hydrotherapy,” Sebastian Kneipp, healed himself of tuberculosis using water cures. He then went on to help other people using treatments like cold river plunges, or walking on the snow barefoot to heal colds and sinus congestion. Those water treatments are still something we can do today for remarkable health gains.
Hot or Cold?
The more extreme the temperature difference from our body temp, the stronger the effect of the treatment. Most people don’t like the thought of a freezing cold ice pack, but it can reduce pain and inflammation very quickly. Icing is not just for major injuries or post-surgery, but excellent for headache pain and muscle aches. It’s better to use a malleable ice pack instead of a bag of ice -- it’s just easier to work with and won’t drip, which is both uncomfortable and annoying.
When using an ice pack, cover the area for 1 - 15 minutes, then remove for 5 minutes, repeat as needed.
Heat is the usual go-to remedy for most people because it just seems like it's going to feel good, but heat can actually cause more pain if used improperly. Heat causes vasodilation; the opening of blood vessels which brings blood flow to the area. This fresh, oxygenated, and healing blood is helpful during chronic issues, like a frozen shoulder. Don’t put heat on a recent injury or strain, heat will increase inflammation, resulting in more pain. Moist heat is better than a heating pad, so use a hot water bottle or pillowcase filled with rice that is microwaved. If using heat, always combine it with cold in an alternating fashion; which is called Alternating Hot and Cold Therapy. This will not only ensure you're not aggravating a situation, but enhance and improve your healing time.
Wet Sock Treatment
It might sound crazy if you've never heard of it, but a truly wonderful naturopathic hydrotherapy treatment used for head colds, flu, sinus infections, headaches, sore throat, cough, and bronchitis is a nighttime "Wet Sock Treatment." When you go to bed with wet socks, your body temperature raises to warm you and triggers the body’s defenses, according to Jamey Wallace, ND, chief medical officer at Bastyr Center, the teaching clinic of Bastyr University. This in turn stimulates your immune system, treating your cold or flu while you sleep. It's basically free, has been used for centuries, really works, and I promise, it feels great! Expect a great night sleep and waking up feeling much better.
What you’ll need:
1 pair thin cotton or wool ankle socks
1 pair thick wool socks
Set a folded towel on the bed where your feet will be.
Take a hot bath for 15 minutes while thin socks are soaking in ice water, then dry off.
Wring out socks so they’re not dripping and carry over to bed.
Put on the wet socks and put larger dry socks over them, then wrap with a large towel.
Cover yourself completely and pretty quickly your body will start to warm, which will dry your socks during the night.
You will sleep soundly and wake up feeling great! This remedy is safe for children as well.
Whether you use an ice pack or a hot shower, wet socks or cold sheets, hydrotherapy self-care is an easy, convenient and a really inexpensive healing tool.