Hydrotherapy is a form of physical therapy also known as aquatic therapy where water revitalizes, maintains, and restores health. These can include hot tubs, saunas, steam baths or foot baths. Warm water makes moving safer with gentle resistance and soft pressure on the body. It also provides safe cushioning for stressed or fragile bones.
Egyptian, Roman, Persian, Greek, and Chinese ancient cultures often used warm and cold water for healing. However, as with many healthy practices, hydrotherapy largely disappeared during the Middle Ages, then was revived in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Formalized as a healing discipline around 1829, Austrian farmer Vincent Priessnitz (1801-1851) began helping others from his home until news of his effective hydrotherapy treatments got out. At that point he began his public career to accommodate the increasing numbers attracted by the fame of his water cures. For his inspiration Priessnitzz looked heavily to two English works on the medical uses of water that had been translated into German around a century earlier.
One of these books was by Sir John Floyer—a physician from Lichfield who saw the neighboring locals using natural springs for healing—and Edward Bayner, a fellow in the College of Physicians. They published “Psychrolousia: The History of Cold Bathing, both Ancient and Modern” in 1715. This book is now available online in a Google archive here: https://archive.org/stream/psychrolousiaor00bayngoog#page/n6/mode/2up
The other work was that of Dr. James Currie (1756-1805) of Liverpool called “Medical Reports on the Effects of Water, Cold and Warm, as a remedy in Fevers and other Diseases,” published in 1805, and soon after translated into German. It proved extremely popular and was the first book which examined the subject on a scientific basis. This book is also available in a Google archive here: https://archive.org/stream/medicalreportso00currgoog#page/n6/mode/2up
Hydrotherapy spread to North America vin the 19th century when the Father Sebastian Kneipp, a Bavarian monk, began a movement to recognize the healing benefits of water. In 1894 Kneipp wrote a book, “My Water Cure.” In it, Kneipp presented his water-cure, tested for more than 35 years and published for healing and wellness. With one hundred illustrations, this book was translated to English from the German. A reprint is now available on Amazon.com here: http://www.amazon.com/My-Water-Cure-New-Edition/dp/1594626405
Kneipp’s methods were later adopted by the German physician Benedict Lust, who claimed he successfully treated his own tuberculosis with Kneipp’s methods. When Lust moved to the United States in 1896 he founded the first American school of naturopathic medicine, which included hydrotherapy treatments. Since that time, the healing uses of hydrotherapy have expanded. Today, various forms of hydrotherapy are used in both alternative and conventional medicine.
Everything from Rheumatoid Arthritis to fibromyalgia to degenerative diseases and aging, physical therapy after injury, neuropathy, and minor issues such as improving workout recovery time—hydrotherapy is now widely accepted in both medical and holistic circles. Not only do we feel good when we’re in warm water, but our bodies are helped on many levels by the gentle pressure, soft resistance, improved blood flow, and release of tension.
No longer do we need to travel for treatment either. Portable hot tubs are now standard equipment in many homes.