Hydrotherapy: The Beauty in Simplicity

What is hydrotherapy?

The use of water (generally cold, or contrasting hot and cold) on a portion of or the whole body.

What does hydrotherapy do?

An increase in circulation is the primary and initial response of the body to hydrotherapy.

Why is an increase in circulation in specific areas so broadly beneficial?

By moving more amounts of blood and lymphatic fluid, you increase the amount of (and speed) metabolic waste removed from the tissue area, and increasing the amount of nutrients and oxygen reaching the area. Since it is in a system, effecting one area will have an effect on the whole system.

Why cold water?

“Short cold” applications of water help the body to react and to respond.

If you only applied warm water, at the end of the treatment there would be something similar to stagnation of blood in that area. By doing “short cold”, or always ending on cold, the body initially pulls the blood in, but then moves it right back out in order to warm the area, increasing circulation, rather than letting it be stagnant. (Note: Hydrotherapy can only be performed on patients that are warmed. If they are not warmed, they must first be warmed before any kind of cold water treatment can be done. If not, the body does not usually have the strength to respond to the treatment.)

Is there a shock factor to hydrotherapy?

This is not shocking the system. We are looking to stimulate the system. If done inappropriately, it is possible.

What sorts of things can hydrotherapy be used to treat?

Hydrotherapy can be used for every condition or in conjunction with other modalities. The handful of exceptions would include treating conditions over an open wound and certain stages of pregnancy.

Can hydrotherapy cause fatigue?

Hydrotherapy should not cause fatigue. If it is causing fatigue, the practitioner is doing something inappropriate. That does not mean that you might not be tired. Sometimes the body needs to rest and respond to the treatment.

If fatigue is occurring, the practitioner may be treating too large of an area, or trying to push healing too quickly.

Any tips to get over the modern apprehension of cold water?

If you tell a person nowadays to use cold water, they will cringe and never see you again.

The apprehension of the cold is because you think that it will last. When doing a wrap, the cold lasts a matter of moments. Within several minutes, your body has begun to dry and warm the wrap. 

Short cold applications last anywhere from 30 seconds to a maximum of 3 minutes. The experience of short cold water done appropriately is stimulating, invigorating, and health promoting.

What hydrotherapy treatments are used in modern times?

Some examples include:

Contrast baths


Rinses (in German, guss)

Constitutional Hydrotherapy


What is Constitutional Hydrotherapy?

It was developed by O.G. Carroll in Spokane WA. Instead of wrapping the whole body, there is an alternation of hot and cold towels first on the chest and then on the back. The treatment also includes muscular contractions through an electrical stimulation unit.

What types of hydrotherapy treatment do you prefer?

I prefer wraps and constitutional hydrotherapy. I see quicker results in regaining health and I see more patient involvement with home treatment.

Can hydrotherapy be done at home?

It is easy enough to learn and be helpful at home, but doctoral guidance is always beneficial. The book My Water Cure (written in the 1800s) was written so that the common peasants in Germany could treat themselves at home. There are massive volumes of books written by doctors who do it as well, getting into the nuts and bolts of it.

How does Germany incorporate hydrotherapy into daily routine?

Many towns in Germany have areas in their city parks where the public can come and do treatments on their own. The national healthcare system of Germany will still pay a portion of the fees incurred for citizens to go several weeks at a time at a hydrotherapy clinic for treatments. The EU also sponsors elementary schools that teach the kids how to do hydrotherapy.

Can you give examples of everyday use for hydrotherapy?

·      End your daily shower with cool water for 20 sec. Your body responds to the cold stimuli of the shower and begins to heat you up. When you step out of the shower, you are usually warmer than if you had ended your shower with hot water.

·      Walk barefoot in wet grass.

·      Do contrast hot and cold water for common sprains and strains.

How can hydrotherapy treat common ailments?

Cold compresses are great for hydrotherapy, especially in children.

Take a cold wet washcloth, and place it on the baby’s back. When the baby has warmed it, recool it and put it back. It allows the fever to not be suppressed, but keeps the temperature at a safe place.

Oftentimes, when you initially put a cold cloth or wrap on a baby or small child, they will scream - but only for moments. They will begin to warm it, and it begins to relax them and their nervous systems.


These are 3rd and 4th Graders at the Kneipp Elementary School in Saubach, Germany. This is a "magnet" type school. They learn the 5 Pillars of Kneipp Therapy (see blog for more details) along with their normal school subjects. They have created a song that goes along with the pillars so that they can remember and teach them better. The principal of the school appears off and on at the far right in the red jacket. They other two adults are teachers at the school.

The kids water treading station is on the right side of the video.

This is a video of the kids at the Kneipp School demonstrating how to do water treading. It was a cool day, about 58 degree and windy. The water is about 50 degrees.

At the Kur Park in Bad Worishofen, Germany. This is one of many water treading/arm bath areas throughout the town and park. It is open for everyone to come and take the benefits of the waters.

Father Kneipp helped bring water treading into use and fashion. Hydrotherapy is about circulation and the moving of fluid in the body. Water treading and arm baths great way to do that, as well as a way of "hardening" the body. Started in the late 1800's, it was important to have a strong immune system and a vitality that could handle the harsh environment. Arm baths are another way to strengthen the system as well. Arm baths can also be used as a "pick-me-up" when you are feeling tired. Although the environment is not as harsh today for most people, we do need that hardness in our lives to keep and stay healthy.

This is part of the barefoot walking trail. Often times when one hears of barefoot walking, they think of "Earthing". Although that is not untrue, barefoot walking is and can be much more. It is a way to bring more awareness to the body. It makes us slow slow down and experience more fully what is being felt in the feet and the body. It is also used as a hardening treatment by strengthening our feet. Father Kneipp employed this in his therapies. Even the Pope and the Archduke of Austria, when they came to see him in the the 1890's, were required to do barefoot walking.

These are the Gradiaworks in Bad Sulza, Germay. Originally this would have been much longer and there were 3 others at or near this location. During the 1700/1800, this was how salt was extracted from the mineral water there. Water is trickled down on the the branches, slowly concentrating the salt in the water that is gathered below. It would them be piped to a brine holding tank until it was piped to the cook house, where the remaining water is cooked off and the salt gathered. It was found that the workers were extremely healthy. Many cities then found ways to repair or rebuild them so that the local townspeople could come and take in the salt air. Salt has a anti-microbial aspect and when in haled is supporting and helpful to the whole respiratory system. It can also be very helpful to the skin as well.

This in side the Inhaltorium. Some of the concentrated salt water is vaporized in a room so that people can come and walk or sit to take in the salt air. Being vaporized and concentrated as it is here, it is very effective to supporting and restoring the health of the respiratory system.

The Gradiaworks in Bad Orb are constructed slightly differently than the ones in Bad Sulza. Here, you can walk between the two sets of black-thorne bushes, so that the water/salt can be taken in easier.