Hydrotherapy, formerly called hydropathy, involves the use of water for pain-relief and treating illness. The term hydrotherapy itself is synonymous with the term water cure as it was originally marketed by practitioners and promoters in the 19th century. A hydrotherapist therefore, is someone who practices hydrotherapy.

Water cure has since come to have two opposing definitions, which can cause confusion.
Water cure therapy
Water cure (therapy)
A water cure in the therapeutic sense is a course of medical treatment by hydrotherapy.-Overview:In the mid-19th century there was a popular revival of the water cure in Europe, the United Kingdom, and the United States...

  a course of medical treatment by hydrotherapy water cure torture
Water cure (torture)
Water cure as a term for a form of torture refers to a method in which the victim is forced to drink large quantities of water in a short time, resulting in gastric distension, water intoxication and possibly death....

  a form of torture
Torture is the act of inflicting severe pain as a means of punishment, revenge, forcing information or a confession, or simply as an act of cruelty. Throughout history, torture has often been used as a method of political re-education, interrogation, punishment, and coercion...

 in which a person is forced to drink large quantities of water.
The sense used in this article is the first one, synonymous with the term hydrotherapy, and which precedes recorded use of the second sense.

Hydrotherapy in general encompases a range of approaches and their definitions. These range from approaches and definitions which are either naturally distinct, or made so for marketing purposes, to approaches and definitions which overlap significantly, and which can be difficult to disentangle.

One such overlap pertains to spas. According to the International SPA Association (ISPA), hydrotherapy has long been a staple in European spas. It is the generic term for water therapies using jets, underwater massage and mineral baths (e.g. balneotherapy
Balneotherapy is the treatment of disease by bathing, usually practiced at spas. While it is considered distinct from hydrotherapy, there are some overlaps in practice and in underlying principles. Balneotherapy may involve hot or cold water, massage through moving water, relaxation or stimulation...

, Iodine-Grine therapy, Kneipp
Sebastian Kneipp
Sebastian Kneipp was a Bavarian priest and one of the founders of the Naturopathic medicine movement...

 treatments, Scotch hose, Swiss shower, thalassotherapy
Thalassotherapy is the unproven medical use of seawater as a form of therapy. The properties of seawater are believed to have beneficial effects upon the pores of the skin. Thalassotherapy was developed in seaside towns in Brittany, France during the 19th century...

) and others. It also can mean a whirlpool bath, hot Roman bath
In ancient Rome, thermae and balnea were facilities for bathing...

, hot tub
Hot tub
A hot tub is a large tub or small pool full of heated water and used for soaking, relaxation, massage, or hydrotherapy. In most cases, they have jets for massage purposes. Hot tubs are usually located outdoors, and are often sheltered for protection from the elements, as well as for privacy....

, Jacuzzi
Jacuzzi is a company that produces whirlpool bathtubs and spas. Its first product was a bath with massaging jets. The term "jacuzzi" is now often used generically to refer to any bathtub with massaging jets.-History:...

, cold plunge and mineral bath
Mineral spa
Mineral spas are resorts developed around naturally occurring mineral spring locales.- Origins :Spas grew in reputation in the nineteenth century on into the late middle-twentieth century for their purported healing or healthful benefits to those wealthy enough to partake of their waters...

. These treatments use physical water properties, such as temperature and pressure, for therapeutic purposes, to stimulate blood circulation and treat the symptoms of certain diseases.

Historical background

Various forms of hydrotherapy have been recorded in ancient Egyptian
Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh...

, Greek
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

 and Roman
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

 civilizations. Egyptian royalty bathed with essential oil
Essential oil
An essential oil is a concentrated hydrophobic liquid containing volatile aroma compounds from plants. Essential oils are also known as volatile oils, ethereal oils or aetherolea, or simply as the "oil of" the plant from which they were extracted, such as oil of clove...

s and flowers, while Romans had communal public baths for their citizens. Hippocrates
Hippocrates of Cos or Hippokrates of Kos was an ancient Greek physician of the Age of Pericles , and is considered one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine...

 prescribed bathing in spring water for sickness. Other cultures noted for a long history of hydrotherapy include China and Japan, this latter being centred primarily around Japanese hot springs, or (onsen
An is a term for hot springs in the Japanese language, though the term is often used to describe the bathing facilities and inns around the hot springs. As a volcanically active country, Japan has thousands of onsen scattered along its length and breadth...

). Many such histories predate the Roman thermae
In ancient Rome, thermae and balnea were facilities for bathing...


After an apparent oblivion during the Middle Ages, hydrotherapy was rediscovered during the 18th and 19th centuries by people such as J.S.Hahn, MD, (1696–1773), Vincent Priessnitz (1799–1851), Professor E.F.C. Oertel (1764–1850), and J.H. Rausse (1805–1848).

In the 19th century, a popular revival followed the application of hydrotherapy around 1829, by Priessnitz, a peasant farmer in Gräfenberg
Lázne Jeseník
Lázně Jeseník is a small village in the Olomouc Region of the Czech Republic. It is administratively part of the city of Jeseník ....

, then part of the Austrian Empire
Austrian Empire
The Austrian Empire was a modern era successor empire, which was centered on what is today's Austria and which officially lasted from 1804 to 1867. It was followed by the Empire of Austria-Hungary, whose proclamation was a diplomatic move that elevated Hungary's status within the Austrian Empire...

. This revival was continued by a Bavarian priest, Sebastian Kneipp
Sebastian Kneipp
Sebastian Kneipp was a Bavarian priest and one of the founders of the Naturopathic medicine movement...

 (1821–1897), "an able and enthusiastic follower" of Priessnitz, "whose work he took up where Priessnitz left it", after he read a treatise on the cold water cure. In Wörishofen
Bad Wörishofen
Bad Wörishofen is a spa town in the district Unterallgäu, Bavaria Germany known for the water-cure developed by Sebastian Kneipp , a Catholic priest, who lived there for 42 years...

 (south Germany), Kneipp developed the systematic and controlled application of hydrotherapy for the support of medical treatment that was delivered only by doctors at that time. Kneipp's own book My Water Cure was published in 1886 with many subsequent editions, and translated into many languages.

A significant factor in the popular revival of hydrotherapy was that it could be practised relatively cheaply at home. The growth of hydrotherapy (or 'hydropathy' to use the name of the time), was thus partly derived from two interacting spheres: "the hydro and the home".

Revival and practice of hydrotherapy

Hydrotherapy as a formal medical tool dates from about 1829 when Vincent Priessnitz (1799–1851), a farmer of Gräfenberg in Silesia, then part of the Austrian Empire, began his public career in the paternal homestead, extended so as to accommodate the increasing numbers attracted by the fame of his cures.

Two English works, however, on the medical uses of water had been translated into German in the century preceding the rise of the movement under Priessnitz. One of these was by Sir John Floyer
John Floyer
Sir John Floyer , English physician and author, was the third child and second son of Elizabeth Babington and Richard Floyer, of Hints Hall, a since demolished country house. Hints is a quiet village lying a short distance from Lichfield in Staffordshire...

, a physician of Lichfield, who, struck by the remedial use of certain springs by the neighboring peasantry, investigated the history of cold bathing and published a book on the subject in 1702. The book ran through six editions within a few years and the translation was largely drawn upon by Dr J. S. Hahn of Silesia in a work published in 1738.

The other work was a 1797 publication by Dr James Currie of Liverpool on the use of hot and cold water in the treatment of fever and other illness, with a fourth edition published in 1805, not long before his death. It was also translated into German by Michaelis (1801) and Hegewisch
Dietrich Hermann Hegewisch
Dietrich Hermann Hegewisch was a German historian who was a native of Quakenbrück. He was the father of political publicist Franz Hermann Hegewisch ....

 (1807). It was highly popular and first placed the subject on a scientific basis. Hahn's writings had meanwhile created much enthusiasm among his countrymen, societies having been everywhere formed to promote the medicinal and dietetic use of water; and in 1804 Professor E.F.C. Oertel of Anspach republished them and quickened the popular movement by unqualified commendation of water drinking as a remedy for all diseases. In him the rising Priessnitz found a zealous advocate, and doubtless an instructor also.

At Gräfenberg, to which the fame of Priessnitz drew people of every rank and many countries, medical men were conspicuous by their numbers, some being attracted by curiosity, others by the desire of knowledge, but the majority by the hope of cure for ailments which had as yet proved incurable. Many records of experiences at Gräfenberg were published, all more or less favorable to the claims of Priessnitz, and some enthusiastic in their estimate of his genius and penetration; Captain R. T. Claridge
Captain R. T. Claridge
Captain Richard Tappin Claridge, F.S.A. , was a prominent asphalt contractor and captain in the Middlesex Militia, who became best known for his prominent promotion of hydropathy, now known as hydrotherapy, in the 1840s. It was also known as the Cold Water system or Cold Water cure...

 introduced hydropathy into England in the early 1840s, his writings and lectures, and later those of Sir William James Erasmus Wilson
William James Erasmus Wilson
Sir William James Erasmus 'Orgasmus' Wilson FRCS FRS , generally known as Sir Erasmus Wilson, was an English surgeon and dermatologist.-Biography:...

 (1809–1884), James Manby Gully
James Manby Gully
Dr James Manby Gully , was a Victorian medical doctor, well known for practising hydrotherapy, or the "water cure". Along with his partner James Wilson, he founded a very successful "hydropathy" clinic in Malvern, Worcestershire, which had many notable Victorians, including such figures as Charles...

 and Edward Johnson, making numerous converts, and filling the establishments which opened soon after at Malvern
Malvern, Worcestershire
Malvern is a town and civil parish in Worcestershire, England, governed by Malvern Town Council. As of the 2001 census it has a population of 28,749, and includes the historical settlement and commercial centre of Great Malvern on the steep eastern flank of the Malvern Hills, and the former...

 and elsewhere, with Scotland particularly well represented.

From the 1840s, hydropathics were established across Britain. Initially, many of these were small institutions, catering to at most dozens of patients. By the later nineteenth century the typical hydropathic establishment had evolved into a more substantial undertaking, with thousands of patients treated annually for weeks at a time in a large purpose-built building with lavish facilities - baths, recreation rooms and the like - under the supervision of fully trained and qualified medical practitioners and staff.

In Germany, France and America, and in Malvern
Malvern, Worcestershire
Malvern is a town and civil parish in Worcestershire, England, governed by Malvern Town Council. As of the 2001 census it has a population of 28,749, and includes the historical settlement and commercial centre of Great Malvern on the steep eastern flank of the Malvern Hills, and the former...

 in England where Dr. James Wilson (d. 1867) followed by James Manby Gully
James Manby Gully
Dr James Manby Gully , was a Victorian medical doctor, well known for practising hydrotherapy, or the "water cure". Along with his partner James Wilson, he founded a very successful "hydropathy" clinic in Malvern, Worcestershire, which had many notable Victorians, including such figures as Charles...

 set up their clinics using Malvern water
Malvern Water
Malvern water is a natural spring water from the Malvern Hills on the border of the counties of Herefordshire and Worcestershire in England. The Hills consist of very hard granite and limestone rock. Fissures in the rock retain rain water, which slowly permeates through, escaping at the springs...

, hydropathic establishments multiplied with great rapidity. Antagonism ran high between the old practice and the new. Unsparing condemnation was heaped by each on the other; and a legal prosecution, leading to a royal commission
Royal Commission
In Commonwealth realms and other monarchies a Royal Commission is a major ad-hoc formal public inquiry into a defined issue. They have been held in various countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Saudi Arabia...

 of inquiry, served but to make Priessnitz and his system stand higher in public estimation.

Increasing popularity soon diminished caution whether the new method would help minor ailments and be of benefit to the more seriously injured. Hydropathists occupied themselves mainly with studying chronic invalids well able to bear a rigorous regimen and the severities of unrestricted crisis. The need of a radical adaptation to the former class was first adequately recognized by John Smedley
John Smedley (industrialist)
John Smedley is the name of four generations of owners of Lea Mills, near Matlock, Derbyshire. The most famous of these was John Smedley , born Wirksworth, Derbyshire.-Lea Mills:...

, a manufacturer of Derbyshire
Derbyshire is a county in the East Midlands of England. A substantial portion of the Peak District National Park lies within Derbyshire. The northern part of Derbyshire overlaps with the Pennines, a famous chain of hills and mountains. The county contains within its boundary of approx...

, who, impressed in his own person with the severities as well as the benefits of the cold water cure, practised among his workpeople a milder form of hydropathy, and began about 1852 a new era in its history, founding at Matlock a counterpart of the establishment at Gräfenberg.

Ernst Brand (1826–1897) of Berlin, Raljen and Theodor von Jürgensen
Theodor von Jürgensen
Theodor von Jürgensen was a German internist who was a native of Flensburg, Schleswig-Holstein.He studied medicine at the Universities of Kiel, Breslau and Tübingen, earning his doctorate in 1863...

 of Kiel, and Karl Liebermeister
Carl von Liebermeister
Carl von Liebermeister was a German internist who was a native of Ronsdorf. In 1856 he received his medical degree from Greifswald, and in 1860 became an assistant to Felix von Niemeyer at the University of Tübingen. In 1864 he became a professor of pathology in Basel, and in 1871 succeeded Dr...

 of Basel, between 1860 and 1870, employed the cooling bath in abdominal typhus
Epidemic typhus is a form of typhus so named because the disease often causes epidemics following wars and natural disasters...

 with striking results, and led to its introduction to England by Dr Wilson Fox
Wilson Fox
Wilson Fox , was an English physician.Fox was the son of a manufacturer belonging to a well-known Quaker family in the west of England. He was born at Wellington, Somersetshire, on 2 November 1831. He was educated at Bruce Castle School, Tottenham, and University College, London, graduating B.A. in...

. In the Franco-German War the cooling bath was largely employed, in conjunction frequently with quinine
Quinine is a natural white crystalline alkaloid having antipyretic , antimalarial, analgesic , anti-inflammatory properties and a bitter taste. It is a stereoisomer of quinidine which, unlike quinine, is an anti-arrhythmic...

; and it was used in the treatment of hyperpyrexia.

The use of heat

Hydrotherapy, especially as promoted during the height of its Victorian revival, has often been associated with the use of cold water, as evidenced by many titles from that era. However, not all therapists limited their practice of hydrotherapy to cold water, even during the height of this popular revival.

The specific use of heat was however often associated with the Turkish bath. This was introduced by David Urquhart
David Urquhart
David Urquhart was a Scottish diplomat and writer.. He was a Member of Parliament 1847-52.-Early life and family:...

 into England on his return from the East, and ardently adopted by Richard Barter
Richard Barter
Richard Barter was an Irish physician and proponent of hydropathy. He collaborated with David Urquhart on the introduction of Turkish baths into the United Kingdom. Barter founded St Ann's Hydro, Ireland's first hydropathic establishment at St Ann's Hill, located near Cork.-Bibliography:...

. The Turkish bath became a public institution, and, with the morning tub and the general practice of water drinking, is the most noteworthy of the many contributions by hydropathy to public health.

Until around 1840, hydropathy was not common in the United States although it was popular in Europe in the 19th century. But in "Nature's Cures", Michael Castleman wrote that hundreds of 'water-cures' were located on the countryside during the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...


Hydrotherapy in the United States of America

The first U.S. hydropathic facility has been attributed to Joel Shew (1816–1855), in 1843 or 1844, and to Russell Thatcher Trall ('R.T. Trall'. 1812-1877) in 1844. The American Cyclopedia states "the first establishment appears to have been that opened in 1844, at No. 63 Barclay Street, New York", with David Campbell the proprietor and Joel Shew the physician. Campbell also founded the Water Cure Journal

Metcalfe attributes the first establishment to Dr Charles Munde, although this is not supported by Munde himself, or by historical evidence now available. Munde describes himself as becoming familiar with Priessnitz' methods around 1836, and later migrating from Germany, where he treated scarlet fever cases in Dresden during the winter of 1845-46. Munde's son recalls that the family went to the area now called Florence
Florence, Massachusetts
Florence is a village in the northwestern portion of the city of Northampton, near Westhampton and Williamsburg in the U.S. state of Massachusetts.-The naming of Florence, Massachusetts:The name "Florence" was suggested by neurologist Dr...

, Massachusetts "in the early fifties", after his father had struggled "for nearly a year in New York in search of a practice". A blind African American man named David Ruggles
David Ruggles
David Ruggles was an anti-slavery activist who was active in the New York Committee of Vigilance and the Underground Railroad. He was an "African-American printer in New York City during the 1830s", who "was the prototype for black activist journalists of his time"...

 had previously set up a water cure practice, and after his death in 1849, Charles Munde learned "of the opportunity to take up his favorite method", which led him to pick up where Ruggles left off, thence to the naming of Florence, and accordingly, the name of the Florence Water Cure, also called the Munde Water Cure.

By 1850, it was said that "now there are probably more than one hundred", along with numerous books and periodicals, including the New York Water Cure Journal, which had "attained an extent of circulation equalled by few monthlies in the world". By 1855, there were attempts by some to weigh the evidence of treatments in vogue at that time.

The experience of Mary S. Gove and Dr Thomas L. Nichols illustrates this growth. In 1844, Dr. Wesselboeft opened a "water cure house" in Brattleboro
Brattleboro, Vermont
Brattleboro, originally Brattleborough, is a town in Windham County, Vermont, United States, located in the southeast corner of the state, along the state line with New Hampshire. The population was 12,046 at the 2010 census...

, Vermont, which Mary S. Gove attended to observe Wesselhoeft's practice, following which she was resident physician at the Lebanon Springs establishment. She then went to New York, where she observed Dr Shew's establishment in Bond Street, and in May 1845, opened her own establishment at 261 Tenth-Street, where she gave lectures, took board and day patients, and attended out-door practice. "The first two years I had a large number of board-patients, who came from a distance, from Connecticut, Northern New York, Rhode Island, Ohio, Kentucky, and several from the Southern States". A few years later, the character of her practice had changed, involving fewer board patients, as establishments opened throughout the country. Gove teamed up with Dr Nichols after they became acquainted in 1848. Nichols reports that his own attention was first drawn to water cure "by the celebrated letter of Bulwer, which was an earnest and enthusiastic, but in some respects mistaken advocacy of the system".

Other notable American hydropathy proponents of that era were R.T. Trall, who wrote several works and co-edited the Water Cure Journal, Following the introduction of hydrotherapy to the U.S., John Harvey Kellogg
John Harvey Kellogg
John Harvey Kellogg was an American medical doctor in Battle Creek, Michigan, who ran a sanitarium using holistic methods, with a particular focus on nutrition, enemas and exercise. Kellogg was an advocate of vegetarianism and is best known for the invention of the corn flakes breakfast cereal...

 employed it at Battle Creek Sanitarium
Battle Creek Sanitarium
The Battle Creek Sanitarium, in Battle Creek, Michigan, United States, first opened on September 5, 1866, as the Western Health Reform Institute, based on the health principles advocated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. In 1876, John Harvey Kellogg became the superintendent, and his brother, W....

, which opened in 1866, where he strove to improve the scientific foundation for hydrotherapy. Other notable hydropathic centers of the era included the Cleveland Water Cure Establishment, founded in 1848, which operated successfully for two decades, before being sold to an organization which transformed it into an orphanage.

At its height, there were over 200 water-cure establishments in the United States, most located in the northeast. Few of these lasted into the postbellum years, although some survived into the 20th century including institutions in Scott (Cortland County), Elmira, Clifton Springs
Clifton Springs Sanitarium
Clifton Springs Sanitarium is a historic sanitarium building located at Clifton Springs in Ontario County, New York. Construction of the sanitarium building began in 1892 as a five-story ell-shaped brick structure in the Richardsonian Romanesque style. The facade is eleven bays wide and terminated...

 and Dansville. While none were located in Jefferson County, the Oswego Water Cure operated in the city of Oswego
Oswego, New York
Oswego is a city in Oswego County, New York, United States. The population was 18,142 at the 2010 census. Oswego is located on Lake Ontario in north-central New York and promotes itself as "The Port City of Central New York"...


Hydrotherapy and spa tourism

The growth of hydrotherapy, and various forms of hydropathic establishments, resulted in a form of tourism, both in the UK, and especially in Europe. At least one book listed English, Scottish, Irish and European establishments suitable for each specific malady, while another focused primarily on German spas and hydropathic establishments, but including other areas. While many bathing establishments were open all year round, doctors advised patients not to go before May, "nor to remain after October. English visitors rather prefer cold weather, and they often arrive for the baths in May, and return again in September. Americans come during the whole season, but prefer summer. The most fashionable and crowded time is during July and August". In Europe, interest in various forms of hydrotherapy and spa tourism continued unabated through the 19th century and into the 20th century, where "in France, Italy and Germany, several million people spend time each year at a spa." In 1891, when Mark Twain
Mark Twain
Samuel Langhorne Clemens , better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American author and humorist...

 toured Europe and discovered that a bath of spring water at Aix-les-Bains
Aix-les-Bains is a commune in the Savoie department in the Rhône-Alpes region in south-eastern France.It is situated on the shore of Lac du Bourget, by rail north of Chambéry.-Geography:...

 soothed his rheumatism, he described the experience as "so enjoyable that if I hadn't had a disease I would have borrowed one just to have a pretext for going on".

This was not the first time such forms of spa tourism had been popular in Europe and the U.K. Indeed,

in Europe, the application of water in the treatment of fevers and other maladies had, since the seventeenth century, been consistently promoted by a number of medical writers. In the eighteenth century, taking to the waters became a fashionable pastime for the wealthy classes who decamped to resorts around Britain and Europe to cure the ills of over-consumption. In the main, treatment in the heyday of the British spa consisted of sense and sociability: promenading, bathing, and the repetitive quaffing of foul-tasting mineral waters.

Hydrotherapeutic mechanisms and modern medicine

Modern medicine's successes, particularly with drug therapy, removed or replaced many water-related therapies during the mid-20th century. Nowadays, water therapy may be restricted to use in physical therapy
Physical therapy
Physical therapy , often abbreviated PT, is a health care profession. Physical therapy is concerned with identifying and maximizing quality of life and movement potential within the spheres of promotion, prevention, diagnosis, treatment/intervention,and rehabilitation...

, and as a cleansing agent. However, it is also used as a medium for delivery of heat and cold to the body, which has long been the basis for its application.

Hydrotherapy involves a range of methods and techniques, many of which use water as a medium to facilitate thermoregulatory reactions for therapeutic benefit. While the physiological mechanisms were initially poorly understood, the therapeutic benefits have long been recognised, even if the reason for the therapeutic benefit was in dispute. For example, in November 1881, the British Medical Journal noted that hydropathy was a specific instance, or "particular case", of general principles of thermodynamics. That is, "the application of heat and cold in general", as it applies to physiology, mediated by hydropathy. In 1883, another writer stated "Not, be it observed, that hydropathy is a water treatment after all, but that water is the medium for the application of heat and cold to the body". Thus, the "active agents in the treatment (are) heat and cold", of which water is little more than the vehicle, and not the only one".

With improved knowledge of physiological mechanisms, practitioners wrote specifically of the use of hot and cold applications to produce "profound reflex effects", including vasodilation and vasoconstriction. These cause changes in blood flow and associated metabolic functions, via physiological mechanisms, including those of thermoregulation
Thermoregulation is the ability of an organism to keep its body temperature within certain boundaries, even when the surrounding temperature is very different...

, that are these days fairly well understood, and which underpin the contemporary use of hydrotherapy. Although standard anatomy and physiology textbooks make only passing reference, if any, to hydrotherapy, some of the best descriptions of the underlying physiology upon which hydrotherapy relies, are to be found in such textbooks. For example, one of the best succinct descriptions of blood redistribution (which is fundamental to the above-mentioned reflex reaction), quoted below, is from a standard textbook.
...by constricting or dilating arterioles in specific areas of the body, such as skeletal muscles, the skin, and the abdominal region, it is possible not only to regulate the blood pressure but also to alter the distribution of blood in various parts of the body.

British and other hydrotherapy establishments are discussed from another standpoint in a recent history of psychiatry.

Examples of hydrotherapy applications

Before World War II, various forms of hydrotherapy were used to treat alcoholism
Alcoholism is a broad term for problems with alcohol, and is generally used to mean compulsive and uncontrolled consumption of alcoholic beverages, usually to the detriment of the drinker's health, personal relationships, and social standing...

, and it is used today in alternative medicine. For instance, the basic text of the Alcoholics Anonymous
Alcoholics Anonymous
Alcoholics Anonymous is an international mutual aid movement which says its "primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety." Now claiming more than 2 million members, AA was founded in 1935 by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith in Akron, Ohio...

 fellowship, Alcoholics Anonymous, reports that A.A. co-founder Bill Wilson was treated by hydrotherapy for his alcoholism in the early 1930s.

The use of water to treat rheumatic diseases has a long history. It continues to be used as an adjunct to therapy, including in nursing, where its use is now long established. It continues to be widely used for burn treatment, although shower-based hydrotherapy techniques have been increasingly used in preference to full-immersion methods, partly for the ease of cleaning the equipment and reducing infections due to contamination.

Hydrotherapeutic modalities

The appliances and arrangements by means of which heat and cold are brought to bear are (a) packings, hot and cold, general and local, sweating and cooling; (b) hot air and steam baths; (c) general baths, of hot water and cold; (d) sitz (sitting), spinal, head and foot baths; (e) bandages (or compresses), wet and dry; also (f) fomentations and poultices, hot and cold, sinapisms, stupes, rubbings and water potations, hot and cold.

Submersive hydrotherapy

Hydrotherapy which involves submerging all or part of the body in water can involve several types of equipment:
  • Full body immersion tanks (a "Hubbard tank" is a large size)
  • Arm, hip, and leg whirlpool

Whirling water movement, provided by mechanical pumps, has been used in water tanks since at least the 1940s. Similar technologies have been marketed for recreational use under the terms "hot tub
Hot tub
A hot tub is a large tub or small pool full of heated water and used for soaking, relaxation, massage, or hydrotherapy. In most cases, they have jets for massage purposes. Hot tubs are usually located outdoors, and are often sheltered for protection from the elements, as well as for privacy....

" or "spa".

Hydropathic establishment

A hydropathic establishment is a place where people receive hydropathic treatment. They are commonly built in spa town
Spa town
A spa town is a town situated around a mineral spa . Patrons resorted to spas to "take the waters" for their purported health benefits. The word comes from the Belgian town Spa. In continental Europe a spa was known as a ville d'eau...

s, where mineral-rich
Mineral water
Mineral water is water containing minerals or other dissolved substances that alter its taste or give it therapeutic value, generally obtained from a naturally occurring mineral spring or source. Dissolved substances in the water may include various salts and sulfur compounds...

 or hot water
Thermal bath
A thermal bath is a warm body of water. It is often referred to as a spa, which is traditionally used to mean a place where the water is believed to have special health-giving properties, though note that many spas offer cold water or mineral water treatments.A thermal bath may be part of a...

 occurs naturally.

Several hydropathic institutions wholly transferred their operations away from therapeutic purposes to become tourist hotels in the late 20th century whilst retaining the name 'Hydro'. There are several prominent examples in Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 at Crieff
Crieff is a market town in Perth and Kinross, Scotland. It lies on the A85 road between Perth and Crianlarich and also lies on the A822 between Greenloaning and Aberfeldy. The A822 joins onto the A823 which leads to Dunfermline....

, Peebles
Peebles is a burgh in the committee area of Tweeddale, in the Scottish Borders, lying on the River Tweed. According to the 2001 Census, the population was 8,159.-History:...

 and Seamill
Seamill is a village in North Ayrshire on the west coast of Scotland, about 5 miles north of Ardrossan and 8 miles south of Largs.It is sometimes considered part of West Kilbride, and sometimes considered as a village in its own right...

amongst others.

Examples of hydropathic establishments

United Kingdom


Scotland, 19th century
Scotland, 1920s



  • Unclear
    • The Rick James Institute.

United States of America

Further reading

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