Fibromyalgia syndrome is often associated with persistent muscle and joint pain, along with numerous other symptoms. Unfortunately, there are few treatments available that can help to effectively reduce these painful symptoms. And those that do seem to work often come along with various unpleasant side effects. Many fibromyalgia patients do find temporary relief by turning to the pool or bathtub, though. Known as hydrotherapy, these water treatments can help to provide ongoing pain and stress relief, without any unwanted side effects.
What is Hydrotherapy?
Hydrotherapy is an alternative therapy that uses water to help cure illness and maintain good health. Hydrotherapy makes use of water in a variety of different forms, including steam, and ice, in order to relieve muscle pain, increase circulation, and improve health. Also known as balneotherapy, hydrotherapy is practiced by licensed hydrotherapists and naturopaths.
History of Hydrotherapy
Hydrotherapy is actually one of the oldest types of health treatments in existence today. It still occupies a major place in medicinal treatment throughout China, Japan, and Europe. Believed to have healing properties, water has long been used to treat various illnesses, ranging from gout to depression. The use of thermal spas and baths was introduced by the Romans in the fourth century BC and since then has risen in popularity. Various forms of hydrotherapy are now used in countries all over the world.
How does Hydrotherapy Work?
There are various different theories regarding how hydrotherapy actually works. Most of these theories focus on two properties inherent in water: temperature and buoyancy.
Water is an excellent substance with which to carry temperature through. It can retain cold and heat in a form that can easily be applied to the body. These temperatures then affect the ways in which the body works. In particular, temperature helps to aid in the dilation and constriction of blood vessels. This change in the blood vessels allows for improved circulation, better waste removal, and faster healing.
Water also appears to be an effective pain reliever because of the buoyancy it offers. Water helps to support all areas of the body, contributing to reduce muscle and joint strain while invigorating muscles. The natural movement of water also helps to stimulate touch receptors in your skin. This causes your body to produce electronic impulses, which trigger the release of various chemicals and hormones. These hormones help your body to heal and feel soothed.
What is Hydrotherapy Used For?
Hydrotherapy can be used to help relieve a variety of physical symptoms, including pain, infection, and swelling. It is particularly suited to people suffering from:
- rheumatoid arthritis
- multiple sclerosis
- muscle and joint pain
Effects of Hydrotherapy on Fibromyalgia
Hydrotherapy appears to be particularly effective for those suffering from fibromyalgia. In particular, hydrotherapy techniques help to:
- reduce muscle pain
- improve sleep disorders
- increase mobility
- reduce stiffness
A variety of studies involving fibromyalgia patients and hydrotherapy have been performed. In one study, fibromyalgia patients were given therapeutic whirlpool baths twice a week for six weeks. Upon conclusion of the study, the patients involved had better muscle and joint function, reduced pain symptoms, and improved sleep quality.
Types of Hydrotherapy
There are numerous types of hydrotherapy. Your health care provider may be able to suggest the technique that will offer you the most relief, or you may want to experiment with a variety of techniques.
Icing uses ice cubes to help reduce inflammation, swelling, and pain. Ice cubes are wrapped in a plastic bag or towel and then applied to the affected body part. The ice pack is then held to the body for 20 minutes. This is repeated every two hours for one day.
Cold, tepid, and hot compresses can be used to help relieve muscle and joint pain and to encourage circulation. A towel is soaked in water and the excess liquid is wrung out. The towel is then placed over the affected body part. Numerous towels can be layered on top of one another for better relief.
Baths are the most popular type of hydrotherapy. Cold soaks or hot water baths can be used to help provide symptom relief or to decrease stress. These baths are often performed in a whirlpool tub and may involve partial or complete submersion. Special herbs are often added to these baths to help with healing.
Who Shouldn’t Use Hydrotherapy?
Though beneficial for many, hydrotherapy is not intended for everyone. Some people may exacerbate certain illnesses by participating in hydrotherapy. Consult your health care provider before beginning hydrotherapy, and avoid these treatments if :
- you are pregnant
- you have diabetes
- you have severe osteoporosis
- you have a circulation disorder
- you have a heart condition
Where to Find Hydrotherapy?
Hydrotherapy is now becoming readily available throughout the United States. Many health spas offer hydrotherapy packages, but check to make sure that they are properly licensed. You may also turn to your physical therapist or local hospital for information on finding a hydrotherapy center near you.