Last Updated June 13th, 2021
What is balneotherapy?
At home, bathing in cold or lukewarm water is the daily routine. How frequently does the average person visit a mineral spring for a bath? The answer—rarely.
However, people should use mineral springs more often for bathing, especially since some doctors prescribe that bathing in mineral springs could help treat diseases. The Romans actually built baths close to mineral springs and took hot baths regularly and believed it kept them free of diseases. These baths were privately owned but open to the public in the sense that people could go there for a fee, much like you would visit a spa today.
The Dead Sea has long been a popular spot for a dip. Now, with the spread of balneotherapy, the practice of taking baths in mineral springs to treat diseases, the therapy has become more popular. In addition, today you do not actually have to go to a spring to have a mineral water bath. You could travel to spas that offer balneotherapy sessions. They may be just as effective in the treatment of diseases as mineral water from a spring is.
When is water suitable for balneotherapy?
To be suitable for balneotherapy, the water must have at least 1g of minerals in every liter of the water. The temperature of the water must be at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The water must not contain more than 2.7 ppm of sulfate compounds. Sulfur in moderation is beneficial in treating skin infections and respiratory conditions, but in excess can be harmful to health as well. Bathing in spring water containing sulfur has been very popular in Poland down the ages.
Sometimes sulfur and other minerals are added to the waters. Bicarbonate is another mineral that is frequently found in the mineral springs that are used in balneotherapy, especially in Spain. Another requirement for balneotherapy is that the source of water must be natural and must not contain any irritants or minerals that may be harmful to the human body.
In spas, such as the one in Oja Caliente in Mexico, they offer the water with four different types of minerals. These are lithium, soda, arsenic, and iron. While none of these minerals in excess is good for the body, arsenic is toxic even in small amounts. Be wary of the mineral composition of the bath. If it is not provided to you, ask them for it. Be wary of the temperature of the bath as well. It should not be too high, because that will increase the risk of burns.
Benefits of Balneotherapy
Treatment of knee osteoarthritis
Knee osteoarthritis is a condition that involves the wearing down of the protective cartilage at the ends of the bones. It can affect any part of the body, but usually affects the joints of the hands, hips, spine, and knees.
In a study, balneotherapy was conducted for 30 minutes daily, 5 days a week, for over 4 weeks. The water from the mineral spring was maintained at 93.2 degrees Fahrenheit. WOMAC (The Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index) is used by researchers and doctors to assess the severity and pain associated with hip and knee osteoarthritis. In the above study, both VAS and WOMAC were used to measure the pain experienced and the stiffness of the joints respectively.
The pain (measured using a VAS [visual analog scale]) was significantly reduced in the patients. The patients also showed significant improvements in WOMAC rating. The same parameters did improve in the other group, which was treated with tap water rather than spring water, but not to the same extent. On the three-month follow-up after the treatment, the improvements in the health of the patients were no longer evident. In the group treated with balneotherapy, on the three-month follow-up, the patients still showed the improvements they had gained.
Treatment of chronic lower back pain
Lower back pain is a common health problem and a cause of disability that affects a person’s work and well-being. It can be of three types: acute (severe back pain), sub-acute (moderate back pain), and chronic back pain. The cause of back pain is generally unknown, and it is difficult to make a diagnosis. It affects people of all ages.
In a 2009 study, the experimental group of people was given balneotherapy and the control group of people was made to bathe in heated tap water. The temperature of the water was maintained at 93.2 degrees Fahrenheit in both groups. There were 20-minute balneotherapy sessions daily that lasted over three weeks. There was add-on electrotherapy for 3 times a week in both experimental and control groups.
There were significant improvements in the VAS score for pain in the experimental group. The Oswestry Index for Low Back Pain (ODI), a questionnaire used for measuring the extent of disability caused by low back pain, was also used in the study. The questionnaire also revealed that there was a significant improvement in the patient’s condition in the experimental group. Not only this, but the patients’ confidence levels also improved. These improvements remained significant at the 15-week follow-up as well.
Treatment of pain in pelvic inflammatory disease
Pelvic inflammatory disease is an infectious and inflammatory disorder. It is caused by bacteria that move from the vagina to the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and the uterus. Because there are initially no signs or symptoms, most people do not realize they have it. They approach a doctor only when they have pain in the pelvic region.
In a study, daily baths of 20 minutes in mineral water at 38-degree celsius were prescribed on ten occasions in the experimental group. The mineral water was replaced by heated tap water in the control group. They were also bathed for 20 minutes on 10 occasions. The VAS scores for pain in the uterus on palpation were significantly reduced in the experimental group when compared with the control group. The psychological traits of the patients were also improved in the experimental group as opposed to the control group. These psych levels were also measured using VAS.
Management of stress
Stress is defined as the discomfort or distress experienced by a person when reacting to something it perceives as a threat. These threats could be internal to the body or external.
Stress, if not properly managed, can lead to other health problems such as anxiety and depression. Stress could be acute, episodic, or chronic.
In a recent study, it was proven that balneotherapy was able to reduce significantly both stress and pain. Balneotherapy also helped to improve mood and cognitive function in those with stress. It also had a positive impact on heart and respiratory function, reducing blood pressure levels and improving the heart rates and respiratory rates.
Minor side effects were reported in the study, like the slight exacerbation ofpsoriasis, which disappeared over time and other minor skin irritations. No patient had to discontinue the therapy because of any side effects.
Management of fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is a disorder that is characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain. It usually happens after physical trauma, infection, surgery, or even psychological stress. It leads to loss of sleep, fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and depression.
A review of studies concluded that balneotherapy could help in the management of fibromyalgia. Balneotherapy led to a significant reduction in pain. It also led to a higher quality of life across the studies. It had no effect on depression. At the time of follow-up, these benefits were reduced. However, the average follow-up time was longer (3.5 months).
What are the risks of balneotherapy?
Balneotherapy has its share of risks depending on the mineral composition of the water. Some of these risks are:
- The water may contain sulfur compounds, that could become an irritant for the skin.
- Other toxic metals like arsenic are also present in certain springs.
- Sometimes the minerals present in spring water could exacerbate conditions such as psoriasis.
- Thermal injury can happen in a spring bath. So one needs to measure the temperature of the water and make sure it is at a safe level.
- Thermal injuries caused by the spring water can further make the person susceptible to infections through the broken skin from organisms present in the water itself.
- The water in a balneotherapy bath must be replaced after each session. There is a risk of infections spreading from one person to another if this is not done.
- Pregnant women and those with cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses are advised against undergoing balneotherapy.
Can you do balneotherapy at home?
Balneotherapy can be done at home. You can do the following things to ensure it works for you:
- Prepare water in a tub and make sure the temperature is between 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit and 107 degrees Fahrenheit. If you want to stimulate your body or treat mild fatigue, a bath at a temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal. If you would like to soothe your muscles and joints after an intense workout, the preferred temperature would be higher at 107 degrees Fahrenheit.
- The minerals that can be easily used at home for balneotherapy are Epsom salt and sea salt. The recommended amount is 1-2 cups in a standard-sized tub of water.
- Soak yourself for about 15 to 20 minutes to reap the benefits of this therapy. Make sure that you are soaked all the way up to the neck. If you have respiratory or heart problems, make sure to consult a doctor before opting for balneotherapy.
- Some people use essential oils in their at-home balneotherapy. However, this will not be of any use. The essential oils will not mix with the water. They would be of no benefit to you. If you wish to obtain the benefits of essential oils, one of the means would be aromatherapy, where you could inhale their vapors.
- Do not stress yourself immediately after the bath. When you are done bathing, slip into a robe and lie down for about 10 to 20 minutes until you feel relaxed and comfortable to resume your daily routine. You could even sit up and meditate for a while if you prefer not to lie down.
Should you try balneotherapy?
Most of the people would have had a spring dip at some point in their lives. Some people are quite familiar with the benefits of balneotherapy. In countries like Hungary and Poland, it has been in use for centuries for the treatment of common ailments. Scientific studies have proven that balneotherapy could help in the reduction of pain in conditions such as low back pain, osteoarthritis, and fibromyalgia. It could help manage stress also in a better way.
Very few adverse effects have been reported in studies conducted on those undergoing balneotherapy. These effects usually disappear over the course of the treatment, and the number of people refusing further treatment because of them is very less. These, as well as the benefits mentioned in this article, are reasons enough to consider this therapy.
However, as mentioned earlier, there are risk factors associated with this therapy, which should make you want to tread with caution. Before you go in for a dip, make sure the temperature is right. You must also make sure the water is free of toxic metals. Make sure you are informed about the composition of minerals in the water.
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