Naturopathic doctors are trained in a unique, particularly powerful therapy: hydrotherapy. Lucky for us all, many hydrotherapy techniques are easy to do at home with simple materials. The secret of its power lies in the fact that hydrotherapy harnesses the body’s ability to heal. Hydrotherapy is often used for musculoskeletal injuries, colds and flus, and headaches, among other things.
If you have access tap hot (not scalding) water, cold water, and a few towels, you can use this helpful therapy at home.
Why does alternating hot/cold hydrotherapy work so well? When we apply heat to an area, the blood vessels widen, allowing more blood to reach the tissues. You can see it happening on fair skin, because the skin will turn pink. This response takes a little bit of time, about 2-5 minutes. When we apply cold to the skin, the blood vessels narrow, causing blood to move away from the tissues. This reaction takes less time, about 30 seconds or less.
If we alternate the hot and cold towels, the blood moves to the tissues, then moves away. If we repeat this a couple times, it’s kind of like rinsing a sponge, then wringing it out and repeating.
The circulatory system is a series of one-way vessels. Blood moving toward the tissues with the heat application is new, fresh, clean blood. It carries oxygen, nutrients and information from the rest of the body like immune cells and hormones. The blood that moves away with a cold application has less oxygen, fewer nutrients, and cellular waste.
As we alternate between hot and cold, we are washing the injured tissues in fresh blood, carrying with it the best of your body’s ability to heal. Every time we repeat this process, the tissues get another surge of fresh, healing blood.
How to do alternating hot/cold hydrotherapy at home:
- 3 clean towels
- hot water (not scalding)
- cold water
- ice (optional)
- bowl (optional)
- timer (optional)
Prepare a cold towel by rinsing it in cold tap water and wringing it out. You can also fill a bowl with cold water and add ice, rinsing the towel in this ice water and wringing it out. Set the cold towel aside.
Next, rinse a towel in hot water and wring out. Apply over the injured area for about 3 minutes – using a timer helps! Cover with the third (dry) towel to help keep it warm. After 3 minutes, quickly replace the hot towel with the cold towel and apply for 30 seconds. During this time, refresh the hot towel in hot water, again rinsing and wringing it out. After 30 seconds apply the hot towel again and refresh the cold towel. Repeat several times, ending on the cold application.
Home hydrotherapy isn’t right for everyone. Avoid using this technique over skin irritations, including:
Known or suspected skin cancers
Recent surgical sites
Be sure to schedule an appointment with any new injury, or if you’re curious about finding the best hydrotherapy techniques for your situation.