Hydrotherapy is basically using water in its various forms to heal or reduce trauma of the tissue in the body. Something as simple as soaking in the tub can have long-term beneficial properties. The use of hydro methods have been around since ancient times, using hot springs and cold dips. Improvements of these methods have been made along the way. In this article, we are expanding your knowledge of extra benefits that can happen with combining hydrotherapy with massage and other bodywork therapies. Also learn some self-care ideas you can do at home.
“Hydro” is pretty much what it sounds like, hydrating. In this case, it is referring to hydrating “thirsty” cells of the muscles, fascia, tendons, ligaments and skin to make them more pliable, and give more ease for movement. This so important because with the ability to move with ease, circulation (that brings oxygenated and nutrient rich blood) can provide damaged tissues with what they need to heal more efficiently and quickly.
Benefits of Hydrotherapy with Massage & Bodywork
Using hydro methods with massage and bodywork treatments compliments and encourages healing on a deeper level. Massage uses techniques that manipulates the tissues in various ways and dynamics. Alone, massage encourages the flow of circulation. Now just imagine combining this with the assistance of the role hydrotherapy plays with circulation.
This is especially ideal for chronic and stubborn muscles; meaning when someone has been suffering for a long period of time with stressed and dehydrated muscles and tissues. When the issue is deep and in the deeper layers of the muscles, it is difficult for the therapist to easily get to those levels. It would either take the full length of the session or a couple of sessions before that deep tightness is released. However, by the therapist using warm water or steam, the upper and mid-leveled muscle groups can relax more so that the lower levels can be reached.
Now imagine a session where the therapist uses movement, like in a bodywork session. In combination with hydrotherapy, all aspects of the troubled area can be reached and dealt with. It encompasses all effected and related areas that you may not even think play a part in your aches and pains, but do.
What is Considered Hydrotherapy
I mentioned before about “the various forms of water”. Well what are those forms? Hydrotherapy uses water in its liquid, gaseous (steam), or solid (frozen) forms. Temperature in the liquid form can vary between heated water to cold. Application of these forms include using hydrotherapy bags, cloth (wash cloth or towel), a container of water (soak) or other creative methods.
Hydrotherapy bags can either be small for specific areas or large to cover large areas like on the back. For example – on the back, the therapist may start with an overall effleurage as an introduction to the whole back and a quick assessment with touch. Therapist will then sit a filled hydrotherapy bag on one side of the back while continuing effleurage on the other side. This way, the side with the warm hydro bag is getting prepared for deep pressure and specific techniques to relieve limitations to that area.
Washcloth or towels can be used to apply temperature water (either heated or cold). Using this application gives more flexibility. The terrycloth can be wrapped around the area being (or that is about to be) worked on. Terrycloth is typically used for the feet during a reflexology session or for a facial. The cloth can also be used for removing access dirt and grim that maybe plugging up the pours or making that area feel weighted down. Using a soaked cloth is such a wonderful addition to even a regular massage (preferably with warm water).
The clients I have worked on and used this method with, loved the clean and light sensation they feel after the wrap, then the wipe, followed by the massage. I would sometimes use a soaked cloth on the back as well.
In Stone Massage, using water to set the temperature to the stones can also be a type of method of applying hydrotherapy. It’s not to say that Stone Therapy Massage is “hydrotherapy” per se, but sometimes the stones can be put on the skin while still wet, which is a nice added condition to the skin.
Water is also used as a soak in a treatment. Some therapist may provide a foot soak just before a reflexology session. A hand soak may also be used in a session. This is commonly done in manicures, but can also be done in a massage therapy session as well. This specific treatment is great for people who like to text a lot, who are chefs, or anyone who use their hands primarily on a job in a repetitive position.
Steam is another method used as a part of hydrotherapy. Some therapist or spas may suggest (if it is available) to do a sauna or steam first just before a treatment. More commonly, steam is used in facials to get the skin more supple, hydrated and prepared to receive any healing products that will be applied during the treatment. Steam is also used in Ayurveda treatments for full body modalities, as well as for head, neck & shoulder modalities (like in Ahbyanga Shirodhara modality) to open the sinuses. In more recent experiences, hydrotherapy is not limited to just water. It also includes freezable gel packs, moist heating pads (Thermophore), gel-filled heat packs (Hydrocollators) and even wax baths.
Specific elements can be added to these methods or application to support a specific outcome. Elements such as magnesium flakes, healing herbs, salts, and essential oils are wonderful compliments, and an added benefit to hydrotherapy. Magnesium heals… Healing herbs are used to either absorb toxins out of the tissue or support specific systems in the body to function better. Salts can ease pain or be used in combination with herbs to promote better absorption. Essential oils can be used for aromatherapy and a mood balancer. Oils are typically used with steam but can be added to soaks.
A Little More Detail
Now that you know how it is used in various sessions, let’s get to know more about why. A very common question is, “what is the difference between using ice (or cold) or heat? This is a very good question, because it can be confusing to know when to use what; and the reason behind this confusion is a bit much for this article. So, we will save it for another day. Think of it this way. Heat opens and expands. It opens pores, cell walls, and tissue of the body. More like, it takes up space; heat pushes objects to the side and gives more volume. When heat is applied, blood expands and surfaces to the top (or just below the skin to where it is visible), and ready to receive.
What is the difference between using ice or heat on an injury?
Cold, on the other hand, promotes contraction. It reduces… When cold is applied, the pores of the skin closes, and blood retracts away from the skin. Cold reduces heat that cause swelling and fevers. Especially with the use of ice, it will numb the nerves, which reduces the sensation of pain. Which is a more likely answer to why we mostly use or it is suggested to use ice; when we don’t want to feel the pain.
However, using this level of temperature has a more dynamic and intelligent use when it comes to body treatments. In other words, it must be used wisely. Icing is not always the answer when something is hurting. Sometimes swelling and fevers need to happen; by means of protecting an injury until the healing process starts, or burning up foreign or dangerous viruses or bacteria until they die (swelling and fever respectfully). The intelligent use for cold is for revitalizing and stimulating the body’s systems. It is also useful after a heat treatment and healing properties are established. At this point is when you want to use ice or cold (for an appropriate duration of time). It will seal in all the work heat was able to do by closing the pores and keeping in the goodness to support healing.
Here is how you can use Hydrotherapy at home
Self-care: When you need to relax
Stressful day? Challenging time in your life? A simple soak in the tub can promote relaxation. This task can be even more powerful with complimentary elements. Run yourself a very warm (not too hot) bath and add bath salts infused with lavender or chamomile. These herbs are great for mental relaxation of a restless mind. The warm water, as you soak, relaxes tired muscles. If you are having a hard time relaxing to comfort, then incorporate gentle stretches while in the bath. Bring your shoulders up to your ears as you slowly inhale then hold for a few seconds, then exhale the shoulders down. Stretch the shoulders down away from the ears. Out stretch your arms in front of you and gently stretch your wrist. One at a time, with balance, bring your knees in toward your chest (if they do not reach, don’t force it. Take what you can get in the moment); then switch. Take in a deep breath and slowly let it out (either through the nose or mouth).
Please be mindful when it is time to get out. Take your time and do not move too fast. You do not want to get dizzy. When you are done with your soak, pat yourself dry leaving your skin damp. While you are still warm, take your oil, cream or lotion and massage. Start at your face. Gently stretch and create comfortable pressure around the forehead, cheeks, and jaw. Massage around your neck, upper chest, shoulders and each arm to your fingers. You may not be able to get your whole back (that’s why therapists are the best), but you can at least get the highest area you can reach and do a slow effleurage downward. You can even bring pressure with the flow by pressing inward with the palms of your hands. Massage your legs and pay special attention to your feet with squeezes and stretches.
When you are sore
For sore muscles, use either Epsom Salt or magnesium flakes in a warm bath. You can also add essential oils to help your mind to relax as well. This soak will calm the nerves and dilate the cells of the tissue to promote release. Be sure to read “Back Spasm Relief: Don’t Suffer Anymore” to find out exactly what the benefits of magnesium is for sore and traumatized tissue. When you are done with your soak, apply similar massage flow as described above or focus the massage on the sore area(s). If the top of your shoulders are sore, squeeze them and hold for a few seconds while hold in your inhale. When you release the squeeze, exhale. If your soreness is in a hard to reach area, use rolled up socks; a tennis ball or a Pinky ball along with a wall or the floor to engage pressure. Roll the ball around until you feel the area that bothers you. You can hold in that spot while gradually increasing pressure and use your breath to increase openness. You can also use the ball for tight buttocks, tight IT band (or Illiotibial Track), and the soles of your feet.
Don’t have a way to soak in a tub?
That’s O.K. While in the shower, make sure the water very warm (not too hot) and do key massages or holds while under the water. Similar to what I mentioned in the Tension Headache article, you can do that flow for headaches or sinus pressure. You can add squeezing the tops of your shoulders. You can also do Positional Therapy flow for stiff neck. Please be mindful while in the shower. Some people may experience dizziness while in hot water or an enclosed area when taking a shower. If you begin to feel off balanced or tend to experience this, stop your shower. Slowly get out and relax on the bed until you feel better. You can wait to do your massages after your shower.
If you have high blood pressure or are on medications that makes you drowsy, please do not do this suggestion. If you are not sure, check with your doctor to make sure it is safe for you.
Hope that you found this article useful. If so, let me know or pass it on to others. Be sure to Subscribe to get more useful information about how you can take care of yourself with alternative therapies.