Hydrotherapy involves the use of water to treat various conditions, such as arthritis, rheumatic complaints, and other ailments. Although it resembles swimming, it is different because it requires the individual to undertake different exercises in a pool of water. The water temperature in the pool is approximately 33–36ºC. This water is much warmer than what you will encounter in a normal swimming pool. Hydrotherapy treatment is usually conducted in a hospital’s physiotherapy department. A physiotherapist who has specialized training administers the exercises. You’ll often find other movement health practitioners can also administer these specialist treatments, including our trained exercise physiologist in Nairobi.

How Does Hydrotherapy Work? 

Hydrotherapy relies on its mechanical and thermal effects, in order to induce healing. It takes advantage of the body’s reaction to cold or hot stimuli, the pressure exerted by water, the protracted application of heat as well as the sensation of the water. These sensations and effects are then carried deeper into the skin by nerves. 

When this happens, these sensations stimulate the immune system, thus influencing the release of stress hormones, while improving digestion, circulation and blood flow, as well as reducing the body’s sensitivity to pain. In most circumstances, heat is used to soothe and quiet the body, while slowing down the activity of internal organs. 

On the other hand, cold is used to invigorate and stimulate, thus increasing the body’s internal activity. Therefore, if you are suffering from anxiety and tense muscles, you should bathe with hot water. If you are feeling stressed out and tired, you should shower with hot water, followed by a short cold shower. This stimulates the mind and body. 

When you are submerged in water like a pool or a bath, you experience some kind of weightlessness. During this period, the water relieves the body of gravity’s effects. In addition, water induces a hydrostatic effect, as well as a massage-like feeling, as it kneads your body. Moving water stimulates the skin’s touch receptors. This effect increases blood circulation while releasing tight muscles. 

Types of hydrotherapy


This is a type of aquatic massage. The therapist uses massage techniques while the patient comfortably floats on a warm pool of water.

Sitz Bath

This involves two adjacent tubs of water, one warm and one cool. The patient sits in one pool with their feet in the other pool, and then hibernate.

Warm water baths

The patient soaks in warm water for up to 30 minutes, depending on the condition. Epsom salts, mineral mud, aromatherapy oils, ginger, moor mud, and dead sea salts may be added.

Steam bath or Turkish bath

Steam rooms are filled with warm, humid aid. The steam is said to help the body release impurities. 


The dry, warm air promotes sweating. 


Towels are soaked in warm and/or cool water and then placed on a particular area on the body. Cool compresses reduce inflammation and swelling, while warm compresses promote blood flow and ease stiff and sore muscles. 


While lying down, cold, wet flannel sheets are used to wrap the body. The person is then covered with dry towels and then blankets. The body warms up in response and dries the wet sheets. It’s used for colds, skin disorders, and muscle pain. 

Contrast hydrotherapy:

At the end of a shower, turn the temperature down to a level you can comfortably tolerate (it shouldn’t be icy cold). Turn the water off after 30 seconds (some people alternate between warm and cool water for up to three cycles,always ending with cool water).

Warming socks

Take a pair of wet cotton socks, wet them thoroughly, wring them out and put them on your feet. Then put a dry pair of wool socks over them and go to bed. Remove them in the morning. The cold, wet socks are said to improve circulation in the body and help ease upper body congestion. 

Hot fomentation

Hot compresses or hot water bottles may be used to treat acute conditions such as chest colds and coughs. It is said to relieve symptoms but also decrease the length of the illness. 

Hydrotherapy pool exercises: Exercising in a warm-water pool. The warm water allows you to exercise without fighting gravity and offers gentle resistance. It’s considered helpful for back pain, arthritis, and other musculoskeletal conditions. Unlike water aerobics, hydrotherapy exercises tend to be slow and controlled. Often done under the guidance of a physiotherapist. 

Benefits of hydrotherapy

Here’s a look at several findings from the available research on the potential health benefits of hydrotherapy:


In a study published in Clinical Rehabilitation in 2018, researchers compared the effectiveness of twice- weekly individual aquatic exercise sessions to once a week group patient education in people with knee osteoarthritis. After the eight week treatment period, those doing the aquatic exercises had improved pain and function. For a report published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, researchers analyzed previously published studies (including a total of 1190 participants) on the effects of aquatic exercise in people with knee and/or hip osteoarthritis. They found that aquatic exercise may cause a small, short-term improvement in pain, disability, and quality of life. Recovery After Athletic Activity Cold water immersion and contrast water therapy may help with certain aspects of recovery after team sports, according to a report published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2017.4 For the report, researchers analyzed previously published studies and found that cold water immersion was beneficial for neuromuscular recovery and fatigue 24 hours following team sports.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Hydrotherapy used with conventional drugs may have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, according to a study published in the International Journal of Rheumatic Diseases in 2017.5 For the study, participants with rheumatoid arthritis received hydrotherapy with conventional medication or conventional medication alone for 12 weeks. At the study’s end, the group receiving hydrotherapy had an improvement in antioxidant levels and oxidative stress.5


Hydrotherapy may not be appropriate in certain circumstances: Cardiovascular disease or high blood pressure: Increased blood flow may put additional stress on the heart, Fever, Inflammation: Warming may not be recommended for acute injuries, Kidney disease, Cancer, Pregnancy, Decreased sensitivity to hot and/or cold, It’s a good idea to check with your health care provider before considering hydrotherapy. Keep in mind that hydrotherapy shouldn’t be used as a substitute for standard care in the treatment of any health condition.

Benefits of Hydrotherapy 

– It is a very effective method of treating long-lasting pain. 

– It helps to loosen tense, tight muscles, while encouraging relaxation. It also increases the metabolic rate and the digestion activity. Hydrotherapy hydrates body cells while improving skin and muscle tone. 

– Hydrotherapy boosts the immune system, thus enhancing its efficiency.

– It stimulates blood supply to various organs in the body. 

Hydrotherapy has been used for many years to treat various health conditions. One of its main advantages is that it is natural and does not have any major negative side effects. Utilizing hydrotherapy doesn’t have to swallow pills or go for expensive surgical procedures. However, if symptoms persist after treatment, it is advisable to seek professional medical care. 

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