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Alternative Therapies >> Hydro Therapy

Hydrotherapy, formerly called hydropathy, is probably the oldest form of medical treatment. It involves the use of water for soothing pains and treating diseases.

Its use has been recorded as ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilizations. Egyptian royalty bathed with essential oils and flowers, while Romans had communal public baths for their citizens. It has been long accepted that hot water springs can improve health by increasing circulation. Hippocrates prescribed bathing in spring water for sickness. A Dominican monk, Sebastian Kneipp again revived it, during the 19th century. His book My Water Cure in 1886 was published and translated into many languages.

The use of water to treat rheumatic diseases has a long history. Today, hydrotherapy is used to treat arthritis, burns, spasticity, ankylosing spondylitis, musculoskeletal disorders, spinal cord injuries, and stroke patients with paralysis. It is also used to treat orthopedic and neurological conditions in dogs and horses, and to improve fitness.

Immersion in water - and doing exercises in water - has always been a popular therapy. Thousands of years of treatments have built an enormous amount of expertise, but the alleged benefits had little supporting evidence from science until approximately 30 years ago. A 2006 survey of research in Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases discusses the vast amount of high-quality studies showing the effectiveness of hydrotherapy. A new field of research focuses on the cost-effectiveness of hydrotherapy vs. other forms of treatment.

Like many descriptive names, the word "hydropathy" is defective and even misleading, the active agents in the treatment being heat and cold, of which water is little more than the vehicle, and not the only one. "Thermotherapeutics" (or "thermotherapy") is a term less open to objection.


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