Hydrotherapy: A Simple, Elegant and Safe Approach
to Common Health Problems
In this age of high-tech, invasive, pharmaceutically-oriented medicine, a therapeutic technique as simple and elegant as hydrotherapy may resonate with some people on the same level as drums and feathers. However, hydrotherapy's effectiveness is rooted in sound scientific principles and ancient healing traditions.
Hydrotherapy is the use of water in any of its forms (liquid, gas, solid), internally or externally for the maintenance of health or the treatment of disease. In hydrotherapy, water changes the environment of the body to achieve a physiologic response.
Hydrotherapy was used effectively for the treatment of disease and injury by the ancient Egyptians, Persians, Babylonians, Romans, Greeks, Hebrews, Hindus and Chinese. Hippocrates (400-500 B.C.), the father of modern medicine, used water of varying temperatures applied to different parts of the body to help bring about healing in a variety of medical conditions. In the nineteenth Century and into the twentieth Century, the great spas of Europe focused on the therapeutic application of water in settings akin to the grand hotels. In Germany in the mid-1800's, Father Sebastian Kneipp began using cold water washes and warm wraps with sick nuns and parishioners. Kneipp's was so successful that his reputation as a natural healer spread throughout Germany and Austria and sick Europeans began flocking to his parish. His patients ranged from members of the nobility to farmers and peasants.
The stories of Kneipp's successes spread to the United States at the turn of the nineteenth Century and hydrotherapy establishments, many of them associated with church groups, were founded in various parts of the country. One of the most famous of these was established by John Harvey Kellogg (the corn flakes inventor) in Battle Creek, Michigan. Kellogg's clinic was humorously satirized in a recent book and movie titled "The Road to Wellville." In modern times, hydrotherapy has become one of the main therapeutic tools of naturopathic physicians and religious organizations, such as Seventh Day Adventists.
On a physiological level, hydrotherapy stimulates healing by enhancing oxygenation and stimulating the circulation of blood and lymph. It promotes more complete digestion and assimilation of food and improves the biochemical uptake and utilization of nutrients by the cells. It causes and increases the mobilization of toxic metabolic by-products and forces their elimination from overburdened organs and tissues. Throughout the process of hydrotherapy, the body's immune function is strengthened as immune system cells are stimulated to circulate throughout the body.
Although there are numerous hydrotherapy techniques, one technique that I have used with great success with patients is called the wet sock treatment.
The wet sock treatment is extremely safe and may be used with people of all ages, from infants to the elderly. It requires very simple supplies that may be found in any home. The wet sock treatment is an extremely relaxing therapy, and anyone who has had trouble sleeping because of congestion due to allergies or upper respiratory infections will quickly drop[ off to sleep soon after the therapy is applied. Be prepared for initial vocal resistance from little ones. This resistance will last for just a short time as the therapy begins to work its magic.
Some of the conditions the wet sock treatment addresses include head and sinus congestion, headaches, ear aches, PMS, sore throat, prostate hypertrophy and other conditions where there is congestion. It also relieves stress, prevents and shortens upper respiratory infections, warms chilled persons and soothes abdominal pain.
To perform the wet sock treatment you will need a foot tub of some sort (a basin or the bathtub will do), hot water, cold water (ice cubes may be added), a pair of thin cotton socks soaked in the cold water, a pair of thick, dry wool or cotton socks, a warm blanket and a towel.
Follow these five simple steps:
1. The wet sock treatment should be carried out in the evening just before bed or at other times when the patient can remain at home and not have to move around.
2. The warmly-dressed patient sits in a chair or on the side of a tub with his/her feet in hot water (100 to 110 degrees) and a blanket draped around the shoulders. Hotter is better, though take care not to burn the skin. Infants may be immersed in warm water. The water should be 3 to 8 inches above the ankle bones. Keep feet in water for 10 minutes. The feet should become a rosy color.
3. Take the feet out of the hot water and dry quickly. Wring out the thin cotton socks which have been soaking in cold water and immediately put them on.
4. Put the thick, dry cotton socks on immediately over the thin cotton socks.
5. The patient should them lie down and take a nap, read or go to sleep. Within 2-3 hours body heat will dry the socks and they may be removed if they become uncomfortable or too hot.
The wet sock treatment should not be applied in cases of insulin dependent diabetes, Buerger's disease, arteriosclerosis of lower extremities, loss of feeling in legs or skin rashes. As always, it is best to implement any new medical therapy under the guidance of your primary health caregiver.
Perhaps the best introduction to hydrotherapy is
"Home Remedies : Hydrotherapy, Massage, Charcoal, and Other Simple Treatments"
by Agatha Moody Thrash.