by Agatha M. Thrash, M.D.
I. Mechanism of Hydrotherapy
Hydrotherapy acts through the nervous system. Like medications, it acts on the brain centers and their extensions, and then through the reflex areas. Function is stimulated or reduced by means of temperatures used and the length of their application. Friction accompanying the application of hydrotherapy also adds to and prolongs its effectiveness.
A. Advantages of hydrotherapy are evident:
- It accomplishes its results through external application and can be used locally. Its effects are not toxic.
- Medications are not selective. For example, when atropine is given to inhibit parasympathetic activity in the stomach, the whole parasympathetic distribution is included in the reaction: the eye, sweat glands, blood vessels, etc.
- Any medication is finally destroyed by the liver, burned in the metabolic processes, or excreted by the excretory system, putting a tax on these organs.
- Hydrotherapy adds no toxins to be destroyed or eliminated. It increases metabolism to get rid of toxins already present.
- After hydrotherapy, there is a feeling of well-being. Drugs lack this effect, and may even produce the reverse.
B. Cautions in the use of heat:
- To chest in pulmonary tuberculosis
- To the extremities in a diabetic, or patient with other indications of hardening of the arteries
- To the chest in a patient with a heart attack
- To an unconscious or paralyzed patient
A tender treatment given with sympathy and tact will do more good than the most skilled treatment given in a cold, indifferent way (The Ministry of Healing, p. 244). End each treatment with prayer when possible.
II. Disease or Discomfort and Suggested Remedy
All procedures must be done quickly for best results. There should be no delay between the various steps of a treatment. Use water as hot as can be tolerated. For each disease, choose one or more of the following remedies. If the patient feels chilly at any time, any treatment should be discontinued and the patient warmed with hot drinks, blankets, hot foot bath, and hot water bottles.
A. Common cold, flu, pneumonia:
- Hot foot bath with cold water pour. Used in the earliest stage of the infectious process, this may be sufficient alone. Legs should not touch tub rim. Keep feet in hottest tub tolerated for twenty minutes. Finish off by pouring ice water over feet and frictioning dry with a towel. Follow by thirty minutes bed rest. See “Cautions in the use of heat” under the section “Mechanism of Hydrotherapy.”
- Revulsive to chest, abdomen, or both for three to five minutes hot and twenty to thirty seconds cold. May use with hot foot bath, hot pack to back, or cold mitten friction at end.
- Hot sweat bath. Sit in hot tub ten to twenty minutes until sweating is profuse. Dry quickly. Put to bed with hot water bottles and blankets and give hot drink of weak lemonade (no sugar). After one hour of sweating, give quick alcohol sponge or cold mitten friction (CMF). Change clothes and bed. Remain in bed another hour if possible.
- Hot saline nasal bath. Pour one tablespoon of hot saline into palm, snuff into one nostril, catch it in the nasopharynx and expectorate. Make saline with one pint hot water and one teaspoon salt.
- Heat lamp to face. Lie in bed with a 100-watt bulb held four to six inches from nose for twenty minutes. Finish with dash of cold water or alcohol sponge to face.
- Keep bowels constantly cleansed with enemas.
- Quick set of three revulsives to chest (two minutes hot, twenty seconds cold), hot foot bath, CMF at end.
- Heating compresses to chest overnight. Place a thin washcloth squeezed from ice water on the chest. Cover entirely with one inch to spare on all sides with one of the following: a thick piece of wool or synthetic pinned in place, or plastic piece cut from a bread bag. Dress warmly in a sweater. When removing, sponge chest with cold water or alcohol.
- Cough syrup: Mix two tablespoons honey, two tablespoons water, and a drop of eucalyptus—as much as will stay on a toothpick.
- Revulsive to face.
- Bowl bath to face: Fill a ten-inch bowl with hot saline and immerse face in it, keeping lower jaw outside of bowl to provide for breathing. Continue for twenty minutes, and finish with a cold water splash.
D. Sore throat:
- Hot water gargle and mouth wash. Gargle for ten minutes.
- Hot foot bath.
- Heating compresses to neck. Squeeze thin cotton cloth from cold water, place on neck and cover well with strip of dry wool, or plastic piece cut from bread bag. Leave on until dry or overnight. Finish off with cold water or alcohol rub.
- It may be necessary in severe cases to give simultaneously all of the following: a heating compress to the neck, a revulsive to the chest, and a hot foot bath, followed by a CMF.
- Fomentations, moderately hot, for twenty minutes to the painful area.
- Revulsive for three changes to the painful area.
- Application of ice pack for fifteen to twenty minutes every two hours.
- Ice applied directly to painful area for three to six minutes.
- Massage, either over the painful area or at a distance, as the feet, or head.
- Select only one of the above, or use several as needed.
F. Fevers in children:
- 1. Hot sweat bath until sweating begins. For children ages three months to three years, sit in hot tub for three minutes, mother’s arm submerged in the hot water for entire duration of bath, to be certain the water is not too hot. Stand child up, give a CMF, followed by an ice cold water pour to whole body; rub dry and put to bed. Fever is often down when the child awakens from sleep.
- 2. Fever is a normal response of the body to infection. Fevers of 99° up to 102° regularly accompany a viral infection and minor inflammatory and bacterial diseases. Fevers above 104° usually reflect a bacterial infection such as Strep. or Staph. and may require several days of vigorous hydrotherapy.
- Hot foot bath with cold compress to forehead.
- Alternating hot foot bath (three minutes hot, thirty seconds ice water), cold compress to forehead.
- Alternate hot and cold to the head (hot water bag or hot compresses to base of head and cervical spine, ice water compress to face and temples, ears, and forehead). After three minutes replace the heat with cold compresses, and then the cold compress with hot compresses. Give three complete sets of hot and cold.
- Simultaneous hot and cold to head (ice bag to base of brain, second ice bag to crown, and ice bags or ice compresses over the carotids). Put a simultaneous application of hot compresses to the face, covering ears and forehead.
- Hot mustard tub: Prepare bathtub with three to four inches of hot water. Add one tablespoon mustard. Immerse forearms to elbows and feet and legs in the water. Maintain heat for twenty minutes.
- Hand pressure to head. Stand behind seated patient. Place hands on temples and apply pressure as firmly as possible. Continue as long as relief is obtained.
- Stroking. Use firm pressure in stroking the eyebrows, eyes (gently), temples, base of skull, and upper shoulders.
- “Head holding.” Place one hand on forehead, other at base of skull and hold still for an hour or two.
- Cold spray. Apply a cold spray to soles of feet for five seconds while a cold compress is applied to forehead.
H. Men’s and women’s disorders:
- Alternate hot and cold sitz bath
- Alternate hot and cold compresses to rectal and genital area
- Urinary blockage
- Buchu tea, one to two quarts per day
- Hot and cold alternating tubs
- Hot applications to the extremities, particularly using the mustard bath described under “Headache”
- In the intermenstrual period, correct inadequate exercise, habitual cold exposure of the extremities, irregularity of sleeping and eating habits, and fatigue
- Flooding: Cold compress to abdomen, or feet in cold water
I. Skeletal disorders: (See also “Pain” above.)
- Sciatica. Alternate mild hot and cold compresses.
- Backache. Apply hot fomentation to spine, alternating hot and cold.
- Arthritis. Measures which are useful are rest, heat, massage, counter irritation such as wintergreen, exercise, heliotherapy. Hot packs or cold packs may be used followed by a hot or cold mitten friction.
- Brief warm bath followed by a cold shower and vigorous rub.
- Dash of cold water to face or a short cold shower or rub, especially if alternated with heat.
- Crick in neck or back. Hot sweat bath as under “Common cold” above.
- Acute back strain. Ice block to painful area for six to eight minutes.
J. Gastrointestinal conditions:
- Diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting
- Hot sweat bath as described under “Common cold.”
- Charcoal tablets, four to eight every four hours for two to three doses.
- Bland diet, scraped fresh apple.
- Carob powder made to a paste with water, one to two tablespoons.
- Catnip tea.
- Treat the acute stages in the same fashion as “nausea and vomiting” above, giving special attention to the elimination of toxins by sweating. Keep an attendant constantly with the patient.
- Peptic ulcers
- Fast for twenty-four hours, giving four to eight charcoal tablets every four hours.
- Take a bland diet beginning the second twenty-four hours. No fluids are allowed with meals. Chew well and eat slowly. Meals should be at least five hours apart.
- Apply charcoal poultice to the abdomen.
- Give hot foot bath, revulsive to abdomen, with thick fomentation to spine during entire treatment. Follow by CMF.
- Use no irritating substances: smoking, alcohol, sweets, or other stomach irritants. No eating between meals.
- Maintain strict regularity in mealtimes and bedtime.
- Tea made from Aloe vera, Slippery Elm, or Goldenseal every hour during fast may be necessary to control pain or vomiting.
- Moist abdominal bandage can be applied as a large heating compress. See “Sore throat” under Disease or Discomfort and Suggested Remedy.
- 1. Heat hastens the formation of a head. Application of cold scatters the inflammation and prevents formation of a head; it is desirable to promote scatter in appendicitis and dental inflammations.
- 2. Abscesses in skin. Apply series of three revulsives, repeated every four hours; elevation, rest with mild exercise, diet free from sugar.
- Acne. Use sunlight, air, water, good diet, promotion of good circulation, relief from constipation and anemia, and local treatment by steaming cloths and oil solvents. Avoid sweets, fatty foods, ionized salt, and many varieties of food at one meal. Wash face four times daily. Shampoo daily. Keep hands away from face. Use an astringent. Get a mild sunburn on face to promote peeling twice weekly for several weeks.
- Saline eyewash. Use one level teaspoon salt per pint water.
- Charcoal poultice. Put charcoal in cloth bag, or spread on a paper towel. Cover with plastic to prevent drying. Tape in place.
1. Apply a thick, warm (not hot) fomentation to spine for twenty minutes. Produce normal fatigue by daily exercise. A neutral bath at 44° to 97° will aid in reducing congestion of the brain and spinal cord, a very frequent accompaniment of insomnia. A massage is often effective. Hops, sage, or catnip tea are helpful, use in rotation. Sometimes a cold mitten friction is effective, starting with an already warm patient. Include ten to twenty slow, deep breaths of fresh air.
M. Brain and nerve disorders.
- Nervousness or mental illness: Apply mild prolonged heat to body—neutral bath for one or more hours or warm fomentation to spine. Give catnip tea, one cup two or three times daily. Apply wet sheet pack. Give massage (total body or feet or back).
- Palpitation (racing heart): Palpitation is often due to an imbalance of the circulation; restore, if possible, by redistributing blood to the extremities by brisk walking or deep breathing. Soak extremities in hot mustard bath. Eliminate all sweets and caffeine for one month.
- Stroke: Give hot foot bath with cold cloth to head and keep surroundings quiet.
- Neuritis: Apply mild to moderate fomentations with revulsive over painful area.
- Sedation: Put one or two mild fomentations to back or to chest and abdomen. Leave each fomentation on for five minutes. Dry patient. Dress for bed.
N. Dental problems:
- To stop prolonged bleeding following extraction, place a wet tea bag against the gum and hold in place with teeth. The tannic acid will coagulate the blood. The pressure also helps the hemorrhage to stop.
- Abscess. Cold reduces pain.
- Toothache. Heat helps, cold irritates.
- Swelling after extraction. Ice bags for four to five hours will reduce swelling. Place bag on face for thirty minutes and then off for ten minutes.
- Tooth accidentally loosened, with or without severance of the nerves. Replace the tooth; put pressure to restore the “bite.” If the nerve is not severed, this measure may restore the tooth. If the nerve is severed, a root canal will be needed.
- Care of the teeth:
- Use a small, soft bristle toothbrush. Toothpaste is not essential.
- Use of dental floss after each meal prevents pyorrhea.
- The teeth should be scaled and polished about once per year. Good cleaning after meals may allow longer periods between professional cleanings.
- Broken tooth. If it is nor bleeding, and there is no red spot on the gum to indicate an abscess, leave alone. A sharp and jagged edge may require sanding or polishing.
Treatment includes hot and cold to ear, heat to face, hot water gargle for ten minutes, head and neck kept warm when out-of-doors, ice pack to throat, and fasting one or two meals. Use fruits and juices at regular mealtimes when not fasting. Treat vigorously at the start of an earache as neglected otitis can be very resistant to treatment. Allow no sweets during the infection.
III. Fomentation with Revulsive
- Three or four fomentation packs
- Two to four fomentation covers
- Four Turkish towels
- One washcloth for cold compress and cold mitten friction
- One patient sheet
- One foot tub with water approximately 105° to 110°
- One basin with cold or ice water
- One glass and straw
- Fomentations as hot as can be tolerated by patient, unless otherwise directed
- Cold compress as cold as can be obtained
C. Length of treatment:
- For pain or infection: Set of three fomentations, three minutes each, with or without cold application takes approximately forty-five minutes from start to finish.
- For sedative: One or two mild fomentations may be left on from ten to twenty minutes or until desired effect is obtained—no cold application.
- Assist patient to undress and drape in sheet.
- Place fomentation for spine on bed and cover with towels.
- Assist patient to lie supine on fomentation and place feet in foot tub.
- Arrange one or two towels over area to be treated.
- Place fomentation neatly in position and cover with towel and patient sheet.
- Remove after two to five minutes. Quickly replace with cold compress for twenty to thirty seconds. Dry the skin after cold applications.
- Apply cold compress to head or throat after five to seven minutes or when sweating begins.
- Have patient drink some water, room temperature or hot.
- Add hot water to foot tub as soon as it can be tolerated.
- Rub thighs with dry towel to wipe off perspiration.
- If indicated, give cold mitten friction, a simple back rub, or shower to finish. Otherwise, pat dry.
- When removing hot foot tub, pour cold water over feet and dry well between toes.
- Avoid drafts.
- Avoid chilling—watch unnecessary fanning.
- Avoid burning patient with hot fomentations.
- Expose only part under immediate treatment.
- To relieve pain
- To stimulate the circulation
- Inflammation—particularly on joints and muscles as in fibrositis
- Sedative—for insomnia and nervousness
- Systemic or organic infections, as in pneumonia or pyelonephritis
- When unsure as to which therapeutic measure is needed
IV. Hot Foot Bath with Blanket Pack
- Pan or tub at least ten inches deep
- Pitcher of ice water
- Washcloth for cold compress to head
- Two Turkish towels
- Two blankets
- Patient sheet
- Drape the two blankets over a chair or spread on bed.
- Assist patient to undress, drape in sheet.
- Wrap towel over the sheet about neck to catch sweat and to prevent escape of body heat.
- Place feet in hot water to level well above ankles, temperature about 105° to 110°. Legs should not touch tub rim.
- Wrap the blankets separately around patient, enclosing the tub also to allow heat buildup.
- Add hot water to tub as tolerated by patient up to 120°.
- Put cold compress to head after five to seven minutes, and sponge face periodically with cold water when sweating begins, especially if there is a sense of faintness.
- Continue five to thirty minutes as needed. Raise feet out of water, pour ice water over feet. Dry feet, legs, and thighs. Put to bed for thirty minutes if possible.
- May finish off the treatment with CMF, back rub, or shower.
- See “Cautions on the use of heat” under the section “Mechanism of Hydrotherapy.”
V. Specifications for Materials and Equipment
A. Fomentation pack:
Fold a piece of heavy “laundry flannel” measuring 30″ x 24″ into thirds, making a rectangle 10″ x 24″. Tack in place with heavy twine.
B. Fomentation cover:
Buy an inexpensive blanket made of synthetic material and cut into 30″ squares.
C. Heating compress:
- Strip of bed sheeting 18″ x 2 ½”
- Strip of bread bag plastic 18″ x 3″
- Nice scarf or wool piece to entirely cover and keep heat in
- Thin washcloth
- Square of bread bag plastic to cover washcloth
- Snug-fitting sweater or thick shirt
- Thin washcloth
- Bread bag plastic to cover the moist cloth
- Long terrycloth to encircle body and pin in place
D. Mittens for friction:
Use a piece of terrycloth sewed to make a mitten about the size and shape of a small pouch, about 6″ x 10″.
E. Poultice material:
- Use a paper towel, single or folded over; or use a linen bag sewed from bed-sheeting or toweling to the required size.
- Cut covers for the outside of the compress from bread bag plastic.
F. Recipe for charcoal-flaxseed poultice:
Grind three tablespoons flaxseed in a seed mill or blender. Bring one cup of water with the ground flaxseed to a boil. Add one to four tablespoons charcoal powder and mix by stirring. Spread on poultice material.
G. Slurry water:
Put one to six tablespoons of charcoal in two quarts of water. Shake vigorously to mix. Allow the black to settle. Pour off and drink the clear (or nearly clear) water on top. This may be used for all one’s drinking water.
- Foot tub, three to four gallon size
- Small wash-pan for ice
For more information contact:
Uchee Pines Lifestyle Center
30 Uchee Pines Road #75
Seale, Alabama 36875