Water Is Life: Hydrotherapy 101

I was told thirty years ago that for me to thrive, I need to live near water. I have heeded the call, having lived predominantly on islands in or near the Pacific Ocean. I now live within a short walk to the wild and scenic Skagit River which was the water source of my youth. I learned to swim in the Skagit river, fished for food, camped nearby with my childhood friends. I returned to teach my daughter to fish, learn the print of the cougar and the call of Elk. Water is, indeed, life.

As a bodyworker I can take the patient just so far with my hands. I rely on spirit, chant, stones, plants and hydrotherapy to do the rest. After care for a deep therapeutic massage is critical. Here are a few tips to using Water/Hydrotherapy for healing.

Hydrotherapy consists of both heat and cold. Each has its place and what I tell my clients is “Trust your body. If ice feels uncomfortable, use heat. “ A physical therapist once told me “If after an application of heat you feel good while applying but within 30 minutes your pain scale increases? You are not ready for heat.” Not ready for heat? Try cold therapy first.

Cold Therapy:

The physiological effects of Cold:

Reduces swelling by decreasing infiltration of blood following a trauma. reduces pain and reflexive muscle spasm.

Recommended cold therapy is for up to 72 hours after trauma. After 72 hours, alternating heat and cold is therapeutic and shortens the healing process.

So, what constitutes a cold pack? A bag of frozen peas works wonders! They are soft and mold to the body easily and can be used again after re-freezing. Other options are crushed ice in wet towels, commercially available ice packs. I find that placing a wet towel below the ice pack is helpful. This adds a bit of moist cold and also reduces the shock of the ice application.

For treatment of local areas of pain and swelling, a specific treatment of ice massage is a good choice of hydrotherapy. Simply freeze water in a paper cup and massage the area of discomfort with the ice cup. This is a very effective treatment and allows to be specific in your treatment.

Other cold therapy applications are a cold shower or bath and cold compresses. A cold compress is a thick towel soaked in ice cold water, wrung out and applied directly to the area of concern.

Hot Pack: Physiological effects of heat are to reduce the pain response. Heat is a relaxer of tight muscles, reducing spasms. Increasing local circulation promotes healing of inflamed tissues, muscles, tendons.

Moist heat is especially effective, keep the application to 15-20 minutes with an hour in between. Too much heat may create the opposite and tighten muscles, decrease circulation.

I have found that hot showers, hot baths are the ultimate hydrotherapy mediums. Alternatively, a hot moist towel placed against the skin will bring a similar, thorough localized response.

Alternating Hot/Cold will produce the physiological effect of increasing local circulation, flush the circulation , stimulate immune function. Hot/Cold applications are recommended after the first 72 hours of Cold Therapy is complete.

The invisible aspect of hydrotherapy is time. Allowing yourself to prepare the cold or heat therapeutics raises the intention of healing, With intention, healing happens.

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Erin Vanhee