Hydrotherapy: Will it Work for You?

If you suffer from arthritis you may want to explore hydrotherapy. Hydrotherapy, which is simply the use of water as a medical treatment, may ease your arthritis symptoms and help you function more easily on a day-to-day basis.

Hydrotherapy has a long history. For thousands of years, numerous cultures around the globe have relied on water therapy for healing. Ancient Roman and Turkish baths still attract visitors today, and Native Americans and Scandinavians make use of "sweat lodges" or saunas. Through the centuries, many people have sought health via "water cures" of all kinds. These practices have often been elaborate and rather vigorous, but hydrotherapy to treat arthritis fortunately is simple and gentle. All you need is a warm-water pool or spa. Some rehabilitation facilities offer hydrotherapy pools, but you may need to look for one at a local gym. Wherever you find one, a hydrotherapy pool is well worth seeking out. Why? Because exercising or even just floating quietly in warm water lets you relax and allows your muscles and joints to move more freely. Keep it up and you should experience a reduction in arthritis pain and may even get a psychological boost from the experience.

Although few in number, studies do provide support for hydrotherapy as an arthritis treatment. One study looked at 139 patients with rheumatoid arthritis who were randomly assigned to engage in either hydrotherapy (combining immersion in warm water with exercise), seated immersion only, exercise on land, or other relaxation techniques.Over a four-week period, the study participants engaged in half-hour sessions twice a week of whatever activity they were assigned. The study's authors looked at the participants' physical and psychological profiles before beginning, immediately after the four weeks, and again at the three-month mark. While everyone in the study showed physical and emotional improvements, participants who were assigned to hydrotherapy had marked improvement in joint sensitivity and, at least in the case of the female participants, better range of movement in the knee.

A smaller British study of 10 people with osteoarthritis who finished six hydrotherapy sessions in a floatation pool found that all the participants saw physical gains such as increased flexibility and the ability to once again engage in tasks they had been forced to quit, such as knitting and sewing.



American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org

Arthritis Care, www.arthritiscare.org.uk

National Institutes of Health, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

Hill S, Eckett MJG, Paterson C, Harkness EF (1999). A Pilot Study to Evaluate the Effects of Floatation Spa Treatment on Patients with Osteoarthritis. Complementary Therapies in Medicine (7), 235-238.