• Sue Williams

Healing Hydrotherapies

We all have a memory of burning a finger and a family member running it under cold water. Or, when stress has our shoulders clenched, it feels great to unwind in a soothing hot bath. We intuitively use water to feel better.

Hydrotherapy means using water in any of its three forms: solid, liquid or vapor, to produce a therapeutic outcome.

These would include ice, hot water, cold water, steam, packs, baths, and showers. Hydrotherapy is an inexpensive, easily available, and simple method of healing that has been used for as long as humans have been around. Egyptian hieroglyphics show depictions of hydrotherapy; and ancient Romans, Greeks, Indians, and Chinese have all used water as part of their medicinal practices.

In the mid-1800’s the “Father of Hydrotherapy,” Sebastian Kneipp, healed himself of tuberculosis using water cures. He then went on to help other people using treatments like cold river plunges, or walking on the snow barefoot to heal colds and sinus congestion.

Hot or Cold?

The more extreme the temperature difference from our body temp, the stronger the effect of the treatment. Most people don’t like the thought of a freezing cold ice pack, but it can reduce pain and inflammation very quickly. Icing is not just for major injuries or post-surgery, but excellent for headache pain and muscle aches. It’s great to use a malleable ice pack instead of a bag of ice -- it’s just easier to work with and won’t drip.

When using an ice pack, cover the area for 1 - 15 minutes, then remove for 5-15 minutes, repeat as needed.

Heat is the usual go-to remedy, but heat can cause more pain if used improperly. Heat causes vasodilation; the opening of blood vessels which brings blood flow to the area. This fresh, oxygenated, and healing blood is helpful during chronic issues, like frozen shoulder. Don’t put heat on a recent injury or strain, heat will increase inflammation, resulting in more pain. Moist heat is better than a heating pad, so use a hot water bottle or pillowcase filled with rice; microwaved.

Wet Sock Treatment

A wonderful naturopathic hydrotherapy treatment used for head colds, headaches, fever, sore throat, cough, and bronchitis is a nighttime "Wet Sock Treatment." When you go to bed with wet socks, your body temperature raises to warm you and triggers the body’s defenses, according to Jamey Wallace, ND, chief medical officer at Bastyr Center, the teaching clinic of Bastyr University.

What you’ll need:

  • 1 pair thin cotton or wool ankle socks

  • 1 pair thick wool socks

  • 2 towels

  • Ice water


  • Set a folded towel on the bed where your feet will be.

  • Take a hot bath for 15 minutes while thin socks are soaking in ice water, then dry off.

  • Wring out socks so they’re not dripping and carry over to bed.

  • Put on the wet socks and put larger dry socks over them then wrap with a large towel.

  • Cover yourself completely and pretty quickly your body will start to warm, which will dry your socks during the night.

  • You will sleep soundly and wake up feeling great! This remedy is safe for children as well.

Whether you use an ice pack, a hot shower or wet socks, hydrotherapy self-care is easy, convenient and a really inexpensive healing tool.