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Hydrotherapy - water therapy

A satirical print showing hydrotherapy techniques, mid-1800s.

A satirical print showing hydrotherapy techniques, mid-1800s.

Credits:Wellcome Library, London.

Hydrotherapy involves using water to treat diseases and ease physical pain. It is one of the oldest forms of medical treatment and the curative properties of water are recorded in the writings of several ancient cultures. Hippocrates advocated the benefits of both hot and cold water and prescribed them for a variety of complaints. In the Roman Empire, water’s role in a healthy lifestyle was epitomised by the key role that public baths played in Roman cultural life.

Following a revival in the 1800s, hydrotherapy is often employed today in treatments for a number of conditions, including arthritis, spinal injuries and burns. In the first half of the 1900s some institutions began installing communal baths to help treat children who had suffered muscular, skeletal and nerve damage as a result of diseases such as tuberculosis and polio.

Hydrotherapy embraces a number of treatments that involve using water at a range of temperatures. These can include whole-body steam baths, localised bathing of specific parts of the body, the use of water sprays, water enemas and the application of water-saturated bandages and wraps.

Glossary:

Arthritis

Inflammation of joints; swelling, pain and decreased mobility are typical symptoms.

Enema

A liquid injected into the anus. Enemas can be carried out for medical reasons, as a treatment for constipation, or as a way to give drugs.