(This is the twelfth in a series of health articles that are designed to help you gain a deeper appreciation for God’s amazing handiwork of the human body, and a better understanding of how it works and how it can be better maintained by simple methods. George McDaniel is my father-in-law, and has been a registered nurse for many years, which, along with much research, has taught him many useful health principles. I pray that you are being blessed by these articles. Editor)
Water 3 - Hydrotherapy
Before I begin this article on another aspect of the use of water, I would like to mention one thing. Frequently, proponents of various methods of treatment will claim their particular method is the cure for all diseases or that all diseases have only one cause. There is not one specific cause for all diseases. Neither is there one remedy that will cure all diseases. In most cases, if the cause of the disease is removed, the body will heal itself. If we know what is making us sick, we need to remove that cause. Then we need to provide the conditions that will assist the body to regain its health. These include simple, nourishing food, pure air, rest, sunlight, exercise, water inside and outside the body, trust in God’s power, elimination of harmful stress, and doing all things in moderation.
I could also mention here the knowledgeable use of herbs and dietary supplements. Many of these substances have the ability to help the body cleanse itself of toxins and assist the body in repairing damage and regaining strength. These have to be carefully chosen, however, because most of the herbs and supplements available commercially are worthless. The supplement business is a multi-million dollar industry and too many manufacturers are more interested in profit than in the quality and purity of their product. Most consumers, also, know little about what to take or why. They have heard that vitamin supplements will improve their health, but don’t know one vitamin from another. We all need to become well informed regarding how to care for our bodies to keep them in health.
Hydrotherapy means treatment with water. We are all familiar with the relaxing and invigorating effect of bathing in water. Soaking in warm or hot water is very relaxing. Bathing in cold water can be very stimulating and invigorating. Walking or sitting near a stream, waterfall, or the ocean, can be calming to the mind and body.
The use of water to treat ailments of the body goes back to ancient times. The ancient Egyptians practiced bathing. If Pharoah’s daughter had not gone to the river to bathe, she would not have found Moses.
The ancient Greeks, Persians, Romans and Turks are noted for their public baths. Native Americans treated illness, at times, by use of the “sweatlodge.” After being in the heated enclosure for a time, they would end with a plunge into a stream. This is similar to the sauna of Finland and Scandinavia. It is effective for several reasons. Sweating helps eliminate toxins; raising the body temperature increases the effectiveness of the immune system to eliminate bacteria and viruses; and the cold water afterward stimulates the circulation.
The modern use of water as treatment for disease appears to go back to Vincent Priessnitz of Austria about 1829. He had an accident in which three of his ribs were broken, and treated himself with applications of cold water. This was successful in relieving the pain and promoting healing, and he tried it on others with similar success. In a few years he was famous worldwide. He succeeded in restoring to health hundreds of people who had been pronounced incurable. Priessnitz was an uneducated peasant with no knowledge of anatomy. He used only cold water in his treatments, which is not helpful in all cases of illness and can’t be tolerated by some people, particularly if their vitality is low.
The water cure spread to America around 1850 and prospered greatly for a time. However, around 1870, a law was passed preventing water-cure practitioners from practicing in New York City. Since this was headquarters for orthodox medicine, its use was stopped almost everywhere for awhile.
By the late 19th century, John Harvey Kellogg, one of the most renowned physicians of his day, used water treatments at his famous Battle Creek Sanitarium to manage pain and treat serious infections such as pneumonia. There are many natural healing centers in the USA today that include hydrotherapy as a major part of their treatment. Most major hospitals also use hydrotherapy in a minor role for treating some types of pain and for wound debridement.
There are many springs located around the world that have a reputation for containing healing virtue. In most cases, it is not the water itself, or the mineral content, that supplies the healing. Rather, it is the moist heat that is gotten from it. This, combined with fresh air, sunshine, exercise, rest and pleasant surroundings brings cure to the people who go to such places.
Water is so effective in treating ailments due to its ability to equalize circulation in the body. It can control pain, relieve congestion, decrease fever, raise the body’s temperature and stimulate or soothe the entire nervous system. Here are some simple ways to use water at home:
As a basic introduction, cold water is restorative, energizing, and helps build resistance to disease. This is why Priessnitz’ treatments had such a beneficial effect.
Ice or ice water is helpful in reducing the pain of minor burns. It is the preferred treatment for recent injuries, since the cold helps control the bleeding and reduce subsequent swelling. Ice is also an anesthetic.
Warm water is sedating and relaxing to the body. In an injury, hot water increases blood flow and will act to increase any inflammation. Thus it should not be used in treating injuries. Heat can sedate and soothe the body and make it feel more relaxed.
Steam is available by boiling water using a vaporizer, humidifier or a sauna installation. Steam increases skin action and creates perspiration, which cleanses the body from within. Hot steam from a vaporizer eases chest congestion. Cool moist air from a humidifier adds moisture to dry heated air in wintertime and can help prevent nasal and sinus problems.
A few words of caution are necessary. There are certain treatments which should be avoided by people with chronic health problems. People with diabetes or blood vessel disease of the extremities should avoid hot applications to the feet or legs. These can result in severe burns, to such individuals, that will be slow to heal. Full body heating treatments should also be avoided.
People with Raynoud’s disease should avoid cold applications.
Hot immersion baths and long hot saunas should be avoided by diabetics, pregnant women, or people with abnormally high or low blood pressure.
People who are prone to bladder or rectal irritation or who suffer from sciatica, pelvic inflammation, or rheumatism in the feet or ankles, should avoid cold foot baths.
Elderly people and young children may be exhausted by too much heat and should avoid full body hot treatments and saunas.
Anyone with a severe chronic problem such as heart disease or diabetes, who has any questions about the safety of a procedure, should consult a doctor before doing any of these things.
The following is a list of specific treatments:
Baths and showers can be used to treat many health problems. Hot baths can ease joint pain and respiratory ailments. They can provide relaxation. Warm baths can be used to treat insomnia and emotional agitation. Twenty to 30 minutes soaking in water about body temperature can produce relaxation. Cold baths relieve fever and combat fatigue. Alternating between hot and cold water in the shower is an excellent way to increase blood circulation in the body. Just a splash of cold water after a warm shower works wonders.
Sitz baths are used to treat pain and infection in the pelvic area. Sit in a tub or large basin filled with enough water that the pelvic area is submerged. One-and-a-half to five minutes at temperatures from 40 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (4.5 to 26.5 degrees Celsius), or longer periods at higher temperatures, can relieve anal and vaginal irritations, hemorrhoids and anal fissures. Contrast sitz baths, using separate basins of hot and cold water, improve circulation in the pelvic area, speed the healing of vaginal and urinary tract infections, and reduce pelvic pain. Begin with a three to four minute soak in hot water followed by 30 to 60 seconds in cold water. Repeat three to five times, ending with cold.
Foot baths can be used for more than tired, achy feet. By drawing blood away from other areas, hot foot baths can be used for treatment of headache, congestion in head and chest, and even menstrual cramps. Use comfortably hot water, about 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius), for 10 to 30 minutes, adding hot water as needed to maintain the temperature. An ice bag or cold cloth can be applied to the head. Finish by rinsing the feet in cold water. Alternating hot and cold soaks is a way to relieve swelling in the feet and legs if the swelling is not caused by injury. Use three to four minutes in hot, then 30 to 60 seconds in cold, repeating 3 to 5 times, ending with cold.
Steam inhalation can be used for respiratory conditions such a bronchitis and pneumonia. Heat a pot of water to boiling. Remove it from the heat and wait until active boiling stops, to avoid burns from the vapor. Hold the face about a foot from the pot and cover the head and shoulders with a towel to trap the steam. This can be continued for up to an hour, reheating as needed.
Hot compresses - large compresses applied to the chest are helpful for respiratory problems. Smaller compresses can be used for localized pain, relief from muscle spasms and some kinds of arthritis. To prepare a large compress for the chest, fold a large bath towel lengthwise, twist it as though you were wringing it out, and dip the center third into very hot water. Pull the ends apart hard to remove most of the water, then lay the hot towel on a dry one and place on the chest. Never put the hot moist towel directly on the skin as it can burn. Leave in place for about five minutes. Repeat every two hours. A hot water bottle can also be used. Just be sure to wrap it in a towel before applying it to the skin.
Cold compresses can help relieve the pain and swelling from sprains and bruises. Leave on for 20 minutes. It can be repeated every hour for 20 minutes at a time. If left on for longer periods, the body will try to counteract the effect of the cold by increasing circulation to the area.
Alternating hot and cold compresses stimulate circulation and can be used to help heal sprains and joint and muscle injuries. Wait at least 24 to 48 hours to allow the acute phase of injury to subside and for healing to begin. Then use three to four minutes of heat followed by 30 to 60 seconds of cold, repeated three to five times, and ending with cold.
Heating compresses - These are actually cold compresses that are covered with a layer of dry cloth and left in place for several hours or overnight. They can be used for sore throats, ear infections, chest colds and joint pain. The affected area is first covered with a cloth soaked in cold water and wrung out. This is then covered with a woolen cloth which is fastened in place. The cold water first cools the area. The body increases circulation, which causes a warming. Evaporation causes more cooling and the process is repeated until the cloth becomes dry. This is my wife’s favorite treatment for sore throat. She applies it at the first sign of a problem and by morning the soreness is usually gone.
Wet sheet pack or body wrap works on the same principle as the heating compress. The entire body is wrapped in a cold wet sheet and covered with a wool blanket. The feet are kept warm with blankets or a hot foot bath. The pack is left in place until it becomes dry by body heat. The duration of the treatment determines the effect. If removed after 20 minutes, while still wet, it can reduce fever. Left in place longer and removed in the warm stage, it encourages relaxation and sleep. Longer applications, up to three hours, induce profuse sweating, which is an effective detoxifying treatment. This treatment was used in the fairly recent past as a way to calm agitated mental patients and was a common treatment until the introduction of tranquilizing medications in the 1950s.
Cold water treading is a way to improve circulation and give increased vigor and strength. It also helps develop resistance to infections. This is done by filling a tub with cold water at least ankle deep or even up to the calves. Step into the tub and hold on to a support if necessary. Walk in place for up to 10 minutes. You may only be able to tolerate it for a few seconds at first, but the time can be increased gradually. This can be done every day.
This provides only a small sampling of water treatments that can be done at home. There are many books available which cover the topic thoroughly and can be purchased or obtained at a library by almost everyone who desires more information.
A final word on the effects of water on the body. In 1880, Dr. William Winternitz of Austria discovered that water acts on nerve points of the skin. The skin then delivers messages directly to a nearby organ or indirectly through reflex arcs. These arcs connect the skin to muscles, glands and organs. When water, either hot or cold, is applied to the skin, the reflex arcs stimulate nerve impulses that travel to other parts of the body. Thus, effects can be felt on glands and organs not directly in contact with the water.
Next time we will begin a discussion on the effects of sunlight on the body.