Growing scientific evidence supports the effectiveness of hydrotherapy to treat menstrual health challenges.
·October 7th, 2021
Hydrotherapy is an ancient tradition that has been used for thousands of years to address many different symptoms and conditions.
Hydrotherapy relies on the ability of water to store and carry heat and energy. Combined with the water’s mechanical pressure effects, these can create stimuli and sensations on the body.
Some examples of how water can impact the body include stimulating skin receptors, the immune system and blood flow and circulation, as well as improving digestion, increasing metabolic rate, decreasing the release of stress hormones and easing muscle tension.
This type of therapy can be conducted through tubs, sitz baths, compresses, in pools or in steam baths and saunas.
Many complementary and holistic medicine practitioners utilize hydrotherapy within their practices to aid in gut health issues.
Hydrotherapy is an ancient tradition that has been used for thousands of years to address many different symptoms and conditions. Women and those with ovaries have also used aquatic and water-based therapy to treat their menstrual health challenges.
Today, growing scientific evidence supports the effectiveness of this treatment and trained practitioners offer hydrotherapy to patients as a complementary part of holistic healthcare.
What is hydrotherapy?
Hydrotherapy uses warm, cold or hot water temperatures and water pressure to massage, calm, and relieve pain. In this way, it has an impact on both mental and physical symptoms. The unique properties of water allow it to be used for many therapeutic effects.
Hydrotherapy has also been known as water therapy, aquatic therapy, pool therapy, water cure and balneotherapy. Water therapy can be performed in many ways – through the use of hot tubs, cold saunas and water jets, or other special equipment and perhaps at special locations. Other forms of hydrotherapy can also include aquatic exercise, which is easier on the joints and can help with many conditions.
History of hydrotherapy
Hydrotherapy is a historic tradition and has been documented in many ancient cultures. Hippocrates advocated for hydrotherapy as an effective medical treatment in the 4th century B.C. Roman Baths were central to Roman wellness and society with hot and cold water remedies used within the baths.
Hydrotherapy and baths or spas have also been documented in Chinese and Japanese ancient civilizations. In the West, modern Hydrotherapy re-emerged as a popular form of treatment in the 18th century A.D.
How does hydrotherapy work?
Hydrotherapy relies on the ability of water to store and carry heat and energy. Water is also mineral soluble and can come in multiple forms: ice, liquid, steam. Combined with the water’s mechanical pressure effects, these can create stimuli and sensations on the body.
Warm hydrotherapy can:
Stimulate skin receptors and hydrate skin
Stimulate blood flow and circulation
Improve digestion and increase the metabolic rate
Stimulate the immune system
Calm the body and slow down organ activity
Decrease the release of stress hormones
Ease muscle tension
Relax the mind and provide a calming effect
Alternatively, cold hydrotherapy can:
Increase the body’s activity, providing an energizing effect
Stimulate mental acuity and stimulate muscles and blood flow to skin
Cold compresses can relieve pain and decrease swelling
Types of hydrotherapy
Hydrotherapy can take many forms:
Tubs: Immersing the body in cold or warm water. Minerals, salts or oils might be added to aid in the experience and create mineral baths.
Motion based: Using pressure or jets, usually in tubs and whirlpool baths.
Aquatic exercise: Usually done in pools, exercising in water helps to take the weight off of joints and relieve joint pain. Water-based exercises also provides strong resistance and offers an effective form of physical activity.
Water circuit therapy or contrast therapy: This involves going from one form of hydrotherapy pool to another. Usually this means alternating between warm and cold water, saunas or cold plunges. This contrast helps with circulation and muscle tension.
Cold and warm heat or compresses: This can involve hot or cold packs applied to muscles and skin. Alternately, this can involve fomentation, the process of reducing pain by applying hot moisture to the body.
Steam and saunas: This involves spending a short period of time in a room with a set temperature, using either humid (steam) or dry (sauna) air. Saunas can also be cold saunas, depending on the need.
Sitz baths: This involves sitting in a warm bath submerged to the abdomen. This is a very specific type of bath and is often used for cramps, hemorrhoids or issues based in the genital or urinary areas.
Efficacy of hydrotherapy
A broad 2014 analysis of existing evidence showed the positive effects of hydrotherapy on multiple systems of the body. This included positive effects on the cardiovascular, respiratory, musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, nervous, genitourinary, hematology/immunology and endocrine systems. The authors concluded that:
Hydrotherapy was widely used to improve immunity and for the management of pain, chronic heart failure, myocardial infarction, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, asthma, Parkinson’s Disease, ankylosing spondylitis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis of knee, fibromyalgia, anorectal disorders, fatigue, anxiety, obesity, hypercholesterolemia, hyperthermia, labor, etc.
There is also a lot of specific evidence about the effectiveness of hydrotherapy for many women’s health issues such as using hot and cold compresses, aqua exercise or sitz baths to deal with menstrual pain associated with PMS/dysmenorrhea or endometriosis. In a study, girls who performed 12 weeks of aquatic exercises experienced a significant difference in pain intensity from their menstrual cramps.
Types of hydrotherapy practitioners
Many complementary and holistic medicine practitioners utilize hydrotherapy within their practices. Below are a few types of practitioners who might use hydrotherapy.
Naturopath: Naturopaths believe in the use of natural remedies and in the ability of the body to heal itself. Thus, they usually use natural solutions such as herbs, as well as hydrotherapy, acupuncture, nutrition and massage to help patients.
Integrative Medicine Practitioner: Integrated medicine providers ‘integrate’ both modern traditional healthcare practices and complementary treatments such as hydrotherapy, nutrition, yoga, massage and acupuncture to help people improve their chronic illnesses. These practitioners may also be MDs or DOs.
Functional Medicine Practitioner: Functional medicine believes in personalizing care to each individual. Detailed medical histories are taken into account and sometimes genetic and environmental tests are obtained so that a deep picture of a patient’s individual situation is considered. The goal is to understand the root of the illness and how an individual’s specific physical, biochemical, mental, and environmental context contributes to the illness.
Chiropractor: Chiropractors focus on the alignment of the body, especially the spine and how this impacts both pain (often in the back and neck) and overall health and wellbeing. They typically use spinal manipulation to make adjustments to align the body. However, they may also use or recommend massage, nutrition, stretching, fitness/exercises, ice packs/cryotherapy, acupressure and ergonomic adjustments to help improve the health and symptoms of a patient.
Acupuncturist: Acupuncture is considered a form of traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncturists are often also TCM providers and herbalists. Acupuncture focuses on the insertion of needles into the skin. These areas are associated either with rebalancing qi or helping to stimulate specific organs, muscles, tissues and nerves. Acupuncturists may also use other techniques such as cupping or moxibustion to improve wellness, especially pain and chronic issues.
Massage Therapists: Massage therapists can help relax stress and reduce muscle tension. They may also help you target specific areas of pain in your body. As part of this, they may use different hydrotherapy techniques.
Menstrual health issues can often be complex concerns. The solutions require a combination of medicine, lifestyle consultations and changes, nutrition, behavioral therapy, and stress management. Thus, adding hydrotherapy treatment as one part of the solution can be impactful.
Working with a practitioner who has expertise in hydrotherapy in addition to your primary care provider can help you create a holistic wellness plan, ultimately allowing you to improve your quality of life. See our list of qualified providers to find one to suit your individual needs.