Over the past few decades, the usage of energy generated from hot water for relieving arthritic pain has been garnering considerable amount of interest from the scientific and medical community. Arthritis is a chronic joint disorder that occurs due to the prolonged inflammation of joints and the destruction of cartilage, a connective tissue that protects and cushions joints.
Hydrotherapy for Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis
Hydrothermal treatment or the usage of hot water is one of the most ancient therapies used for treating arthritis, especially rheumatoid arthritis. As opposed to rheumatoid arthritis, which affects small joints like fingers and hands, osteoarthritis affects bigger joints since it occurs due to the chronic destruction of the entire cartilage that cushions joints.
However, studies have shown that impact-free exercises like aerobics and strength training exercise performed in water can ease the symptoms of osteoarthritis in the knees by improving the physical health of joints in arthritic patients.
Different Types of Hydrothermal Treatments
A hydrotherapy pool is equipped with water jets and is used either for the purpose of soaking yourself or for performing strength training aquatic exercises under the supervision of a well-trained therapist for alleviating the symptoms associated with arthritis. Hydrotherapy encompasses a wide range of different therapies, some of which have been mentioned below.
External hydrotherapy entails the submersion of the entire body in a hot tub of water or the application of heat or ice on the body to relieve pain and increase the range of motion of arthritic joints. It is a passive therapy that solely involves soaking yourself and relaxing your body, while the heat induces sweating and improves blood flow to arthritic joints.
Temperature based Therapy
Temperature based therapy is more specific and entails the application of heat or cold compress to the affected body parts. It involves alternate applications of heat and cold, which not only enhances the integrity of blood vessels, but also improves muscle tone. Transition from hot tubs to cold water also accelerates the breakdown of lactic acid, thereby preventing muscle soreness and cramps.
Heat is used for loosening tight muscles and for relaxing the body and mind by slowing down the activity in the internal organs. It aids in encouraging blood flow by dilating blood vessels and blocks the production of stress hormones, thereby helping you obtain relief from muscle pain, stiffness and anxiety. On the other hand, cold energizes and activates the internal organs, thus stimulating the mind and the body. It causes constriction of blood vessels and stimulates the flow of blood deep within the underlying muscles, back to the organs. Cold also aids in decreasing the inflammatory response by the body, thus reducing joint pains associated with arthritis.
Also called as whirlpool baths, this technique allows the heat and the pressure exerted by the water jets to work in synchrony for relieving arthritic joint pain and stiffness. The water bubbles provide a massage to the body and aid in soothing sore muscles and stiffness by relaxing arthritic joints.
Additionally, vapors, hot baths, sitz baths, foot baths, saunas, herbal body wraps or mineral treatment with mud packs, wet sheet pack, steam inhalation, steam bath, hot compress, wet towel applications and salt glow are other kinds of therapies carried out as a part of hydrothermal treatment for arthritis.
Benefits of Hydrothermal Treatment for Arthritis
Improves Blood Circulation
The combination of heat and water aids in improving blood circulation, thus providing oxygen and nutrient rich blood to the affected joints. This helps in relieving pain and joint stiffness by releasing the tension trapped in the muscles. Moreover, enhanced blood flow results in an improvement in the functionality of the internal organs, thereby enhancing the feeling of well-being. Hence, warm water serves as an excellent way for building strength, relaxing sore muscles and easing stiffness of arthritic joints.
Detoxifies the Body
Hydrothermal treatment also aids in the movement of toxins into the lymphatic system and prevents toxins from accumulating in the joints, which is one of the major causes of inflammatory or rheumatoid arthritis.
Moreover, the heat speeds up the process of digestion and increases the rate of metabolism. Hence, hydrotherapy plays a pivotal role in promoting detoxification and elimination of wastes from the body.
Blocks Inflammatory Response
The combined effect of mechanical pressure and thermal energy plays a major role in stimulating the nerves underneath the skin, which transmit the signals to the immune system and block the inflammatory response of the body, thus mitigating the symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis. Additionally, the warmth of the water is known to reduce swelling in patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.
Reduces Joint Pains
The hot or cold stimuli, pressure exerted by water, prolonged application of heat and the sensation of water itself act in a concerted fashion to improve blood circulation and block pain signals from reaching the brain. Moreover, hydrotherapy has been shown to increases the production of natural painkillers of the body, namely endorphins, the endogenous opioid peptides that reduce the need for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID’s).
Lowers the Strain on the Muscles
Water in a hot tub gives you a feeling of weightlessness since the buoyancy force in water balances the gravitational force, thereby easing the pressure on your joints to a great extent.
Provides a Soothing Massage
Hydrothermal treatment utilizes powerful and complex jets to deliver warm water in a hot tub that generates adequate force and bubbles in the water. By exerting its hydrostatic effects, these water bubbles provide a massage-like sensation when they gently pass through a submerged body.
Increases Muscle Flexibility
Even though, exercise is one of the most effective strategies for relieving pain and increasing motility, performing normal exercises places too much strain on the joints of arthritic patients.
In contrast, exercises performed in water not only reduce the strain placed on your painful muscles, but also give you a wider range of motion, thus gradually increasing the strength and flexibility of your joints.
Considerations for Using Hydrotherapy
Before indulging in hydrotherapy, it is best to seek advice from a medical practitioner and get your condition thoroughly diagnosed by a rheumatologist, to avoid further damage and a permanent disability of your joints. The strong and continuous movements of water jets can prove detrimental for people suffering from heart diseases, circulation disorder, lung diseases, chilblains and any other disorder that may worsen due to the exposure to heat or cold.
Also, people who cannot sense the difference in temperatures due to any form of neuropathies or damage to nerves, pregnant women and people with implants like pumps or pacemakers should avoid hydrothermal treatment. In addition, you should ensure that you do not spend long durations of time in hot tubs to avoid overheating your body.
To sum it up, hydrothermal treatment can help immensely in managing the symptoms of arthritis, which is one of the most debilitating disorders and a life-long chronic joint disease. Moreover, it helps to beat stress and is free of side effects, unlike most conventional pharmaceutical treatments used to treat arthritis. Nevertheless, one should bear in mind that hydrothermal treatment can just provide a temporary relief and should be used alongside other treatments for treating arthritis.