Using Hydrotherapy to Relieve Rheumatoid Arthritis


Hydrotherapy is the use of water for therapeutic purposes. A few examples of hydrotherapy include: bathing in heated water, as from hot springs or the sea; mineral baths; and water-jet massages. Another term used for hydrotherapy baths is balneotherapy.
Hydrotherapy dates back to ancient Greece and Rome. In recent centuries, it has been a popular treatment in Europe and Israel. Some forms of hydrotherapy are used in conventional medicine in the United States, such as whirlpool baths for athletic injuries and ice for sprains. As alternative therapy, hydrotherapy is often combined with other treatments, such as exercises, massage, diets, herbs, and/or mud packs. It is used with the intent to benefit arthritis, circulation, and various other health issues, and to enhance feelings of relaxation and well-being. Some also claim that hydrotherapy "detoxifies" the body. In this report, the term hydrotherapy refers to external water treatments and not to internal treatments using water, such as colon irrigation or drinking specially treated water.
Effectiveness and safety information:
  • A small number of controlled studies have been done on hydrotherapy for rheumatoid arthritis, most based on sea-bath treatments given in Israel's Dead Sea area. Most of these studies reported benefit. However, there have been quality issues noted with these studies, and it is not considered proven that the hydrotherapy itself provided the benefits for rheumatoid arthritis claimed in these studies. Larger and better studies are needed to answer this question. Study authors have noted that there could be other reasons for any benefit, such as traveling to a spa, being removed from one's daily routine, relaxation, socializing, etc.


  • The safety of hydrotherapy has not been well-studied. Overall, it appears to be a low-risk practice for most people if common-sense precautions are taken, such as not exposing the body to too much heat or cold or for too long a time, and being sure to drink enough fluids. However, hydrotherapy is riskier and could even be dangerous for certain people, including:


    • Those who have a condition that could be worsened by exposure to extremes of heat or cold (for example, heart disease, lung disease, circulation disorders, Raynaud's phenomenon, or chilblains) or by strong motions from water jets


    • Those who have difficulty perceiving temperature (for example, from neuropathy, or damage to the nerves)


    • Women who are pregnant


    • People who have implanted medical devices such as pacemakers or pumps.


  • Some people may get a skin irritation or infection from hydrotherapy water, either as a reaction to something in the water or if the water is not in sanitary condition.


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