You’ve seen it in the stores. Jars and packages of bath products proclaiming the health benefits of special Dead Sea salts, mineral salts, Epsom salts. Spas and hot springs offer mud baths, hot packs and massages along with immersion into steamy waters to magically wash away your health problems. Is balneotherapy or hydrotherapy for real or an old wives’ tale?
It’s a little of both. But it’s generally safe for most people, and a wonderful and relaxing way to soothe away those aches and pains.
What Is Balneotherapy?
Since ancient times, people have visited hot springs and healing waters for their curative properties. Although these waters may be found all over the world, they tend to share certain things in common:
• Heat, such as hot springs • High mineral content, such as sulfur • Sometimes high radon content
Balneotherapy, also called hydrotherapy or bath therapy, is the therapeutic use of heated waters, hot springs or mud baths for the purpose of healing, relaxation and rejuvenation.
Does It Work?
The NYU Medical Center website says that balneotherapy may be useful for certain health conditions. These include:
• Psoriasis and eczema • Arthritis and related joint pain • Lower back pain • Fibromyalgia • Varicose veins
The problem with stating unequivocally that bath therapy “works” that you can’t really use the same standards of testing for bath therapy as you can for a medication. The gold standard of medical tests is the double blind, placebo-controlled study, in which at least one group of randomly selected volunteers doesn’t get the actual treatment but receives a placebo instead, so that they can’t tell whether or not they did indeed get the same medication or treatment as others in the study. With bath therapy, it’s almost impossible to fool someone into thinking they took a hot bath or received a mud bath when they didn’t! Even testing elements of bath therapy, such as mineral-rich water against plain water, doesn’t work well, because elements such as sulfur have a strong smell, and participants know immediately when they’re in the placebo group. Most people are content with the relatively safe, comfortable and yes, soothing aspect of the treatment. As long as it doesn’t go against your doctor’s advice, it should be fine to try balneotherapy. Pregnant women, children, people with heart conditions and women prone to yeast or bacterial vaginal infections may wish to skip bath therapy, since the heat can worsen this and other conditions. Check with your healthcare provider if you have any questions.
Creating a Spa in Your Bathroom
If you want to try balneotherapy, do you need to jet off to a fancy spa or hot spring? While a week’s vacation at a hot spring or spa might be wonderful, it’s neither affordable nor convenient for most people. Instead, you can create a spa at home to soothe away aches and pains. You’ll need a bathtub, preferably a fairly deep tub, a non-slip mat, and hot water. Good additives for the bath include Epsom salts, which are available at most pharmacies nationwide. Dead Sea Salts and similar bath additives can increase the mineral content of your bath and turn a hot soak into a spa experience. Add scented candles, soothing music, and a nice fluffy towel, and lock the door so the kids can’t bother you. While you probably won’t cure your ills overnight, you will emerge refreshed and soothed.
Does balneotherapy help? For most people, it can’t hurt, and it’s worth a try when relief from discomfort and pain may be as simple as soaking in a hot bath.
*Image courtesy Flickr Creative Commons