Combat Illness and Improve Mood with Hydrotherapy

Feet soaking in a bowl of soapy water.

Hydrotherapy is a therapeutic technique that has existed for centuries. In essence, it is the use of varying water temperatures to benefit the body. Changing water temperatures has a big effect on blood flow, which in turn can improve healing time, energy, mood and many other aspects of your life.

Here are a few simple techniques you can use at home. If you have any sensory deficits with any of these techniques, please speak with your doctor:

  • Contrast shower can considerably improve mood and energy through the day. It can also help you feel warmer if you tend to feel cold. Take your morning shower as you usually would, but at the end turn the temperature to as cool as you can tolerate (it doesn’t need to be ice cold). Run the water over your legs, arms, front and back for a total of about 30 seconds and then shut the water off. Typically this needs to be done consistently for days or weeks before effects are noticed, so don’t give up if you don’t feel a change immediately.
  • Contrast hydrotherapy can help with improving circulation (cold feet, for example) and healing time of a specific area of the body (after a sprain, bruise, muscle strain, etc.). You need a bowl of warm water and a bowl of cold water, then either immerse the body part or use a warm washcloth to bring the temperature to the body part. Alternately, you can use an icepack and a hot pad. You apply the warm temperature for 3 minutes, the cold one for 30 seconds and then repeat for a total of 3 cycles, ending on cold. This acts as a pump – the warm opens up the blood vessels and pulls in the blood and the cold closes them down, pushing it out. It can be repeated multiple times through a day.
  • Warming socks can help with stuffy head, flu, sinus congestion or headache. Before bed, take a pair of cotton socks and a pair of wool socks. Get the cotton socks thoroughly wet, wring them out and put them on your feet. Then pull the dry pair of wool socks over them and go to bed. When you wake up in the morning, the cotton socks will be dry. The cold socks on the feet stimulate increased blood to be sent to the feet, improving bodywide circulation and ideally reducing head congestion.
  • Warm foot bath is a variation on warming socks that helps similarly with stuffy head, sinus congestion or headache. Place your feet in warm water for 20-30 minutes. This improves blood flow to the feet and increases bodywide circulation.

Experiment away!

— By Shawnti Rockwell, ND (’14), resident at Bastyr Center for Natural Health.

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