Traditionally hydrotherapy refers to the application of water to the body. Water, one of the oldest cures, has a long history of therapeutic uses; such as drinking and soaking in mineral water; healing baths and hot springs, to increase the flexibility of the fascia and warm the tissue up to reduce tension. Cold applications can be traced back to Hippocrates in the treatment of acute or overuse injuries, used to reduce the body's natural inflammatory response.
Hydrotherapy is an easy (and free, as a client recently told me) way to help your aches and pains between treatments. I'm often asked, heat or cold? It is always dependent on your comfort and preference, but here are some things to consider with hydrotherapy self-care:
Heat increases the tissue temperature, and blood flow to the skin and muscle, which causes an increase in the body's metabolic response: more oxygen and nutrients to the tissue and more sweating (one way our body removes toxins). Heat also makes joints and muscles more flexible as it warms the collagen tissues which control our muscle and skin elasticity. Spasm is decreased with heat as it slows the rate of firing within the cells that tell our muscles to move, and pain perception is also decreased with heat due to a slower response within the nerves. Heat creates a general sense of sedation and relaxation, everyone loves to use heat!
When to use it: with chronic muscle tightness or tension, spasm, and joint pain. Not recommended for swelling, acute injury, or inflamed joints.
How long: about 10 minutes for heat packs, 15-30 minutes for hot baths.
Cold reduces the temperature of the skin, decreasing blood flow. Within injured tissue this decreases inflammation, swelling, edema, and bleeding. Pain transmission is blocked with cold application.
When to use it with inflammation, acute injury, or shooting and sharp nerve pain.
How long: 15 to 30 minutes, and never applied directly to the skin.
This is when we use heat with cold. Starting with heat, apply it for 3-10 minutes, then cold, applying it for 1-5 minutes. Repeat (heat-cold-heat-cold-heat-cold) as long as needed, and always end with cold. This is a great therapy to increase blood flow and promote healing to those lingering injuries.