How-To Guides | Hydrotherapy & Health - Therapeutic Hot Tub Tips

What is Hydrotherapy?

Hydrotherapy has been used for thousands of years. The Greeks and Romans treated many conditions with it.

Hot tubs give you three of nature's most powerful healing agents: heat, water and air. These work together to gently massage the body while easing away aches and pains.

woman in black bathing suit in hot tub with jet spraying her back

It's a natural therapy, safely used by hospitals, physical therapists and spas around the world. Consult with your physician to see if it can benefit you.

There are several forms of hydrotherapy. Let's explore the health benefits of water massage and hot water therapy with home spas.

Three basic factors make up water therapy: heat, floating, and massage:

  • Soaking in hot water raises the body temperature and increases circulation.
  • Floating in spa water reduces body weight by 85-90%, relieving pressure on joints and muscles.
  • Massage in a spa is created by a mixture of water and air through hot tub jets. Jets relax tight muscles and release endorphins, the body's natural pain killers.

What Typically Happens During Hydrotherapy?

  • After 5 minutes - your blood pressure and pulse rates may begin to drop.

  • After 8 minutes - your circulation improves in your hands and feet making them feel warmer.

  • After 12 minutes - your muscles relax. Your body becomes more flexible and stretching is easier, releasing lactic acid from your muscles.

  • At 15 minutes - your minor aches and pains will be soothed away.

For Tension and Everyday Aches & Pains

To reduce tension, a water temperature between 94° to 96° F is best. This temperature is close to skin temperature. A higher water temperature between 102° to 104° F can loosen tight, tense muscles and reduce pain. Using temperature settings above 104°F is not recommended. It can raise your core temperature very fast, inducing an artificial fever.

If you dare, take a cold shower after you step out of the spa. Ancient Romans did this as part of their bath ritual. The immediate rush of blood through your system is exhilarating.

Evening is one of the best times to soak in hot water. A good soaking before going to bed will make falling asleep, and staying asleep, easier. If you have a medical condition or are pregnant, consult with your physician before starting any hydrotherapy regimen.

Soak Into a Good Night's Sleep

According to the national sleep foundation, 38% of men and 48% of women suffer from some form of sleep disorder. In fact, after pain, insomnia is the leading reason for visiting a doctor.

Researchers believe our hectic, stressed lives are a major reason for the rise in insomnia cases. Lack of sleep can cause memory problems, mood swings and depression.

Many people seek medication to treat sleeping problems. A report in the publication Sleep states the body can reach a state of deep, relaxing sleep. Soaking in hot water about 90 minutes before bedtime triggers your internal thermostat to lower your temperature, thus inducing sleep. A 15 minute soak in your hot tub before bedtime can be a natural way to achieve restful sleep.

Can Hydrotherapy help relieve Arthritis?

Arthritis, or inflammation of joints, is actually a broader term covering over a hundred separate diseases. These include: rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, gout and lupus. The article Arthritis - Spas & Warm Water Exercise confirms, "arthritis symptoms respond well to heat."

If you suffer from arthritis, consult your doctor on the best treatment regimen for you. There are several safe and effective ways to avoid loss of motion and pain. Your doctor may recommend a combination of exercise, heat, cold or other treatments. Some may be right for you, and others may not.

Warm water exercise is one method of gentle therapy for joints and muscles. Water supports your weight, reducing stress on joints. While you joints are supported, the water provides resistance for better muscle strength.

Using a spa adds a third component to the therapy which is massage. A hot tub's jets release a mixture of air and water, relaxing and massaging your body.

The Arthritis Foundation has published articles on the subject of water exercise. Speak with your physician and find out if hot water exercise or hydrotherapy is right for you.

Clinical Study

The New England Journal of Medicine published a study (08-16-1999) regarding the benefits of physical exercise from hot tubs. As reported, patients with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus were studied using a hot tub 30 minutes a day, 6 days per week.

After only 10 days, patients required reduced insulin doses, lost weight, showed distinct decreases in plasma glucose and glycosylated hemoglobin. They also benefited from improved sleep and an increased general sense of well-being.

The study also reported of benefits for patients who are unable to exercise. These patients would specifically benefit from increased blood flow to skeletal muscles. Consult with your physician prior to starting any hydrotherapy program.

Weight Loss and Cellulite Reduction

The same diabetes study showed that regular use of hot tubs can aid in weight loss. Soaking in a spa simulates exercise by dilating blood vessels and improving circulation, relaxing the skin and muscles.

The results showed that each subject's weight was reduced by an average of nearly four pounds. That's over a pound per week, just by soaking in a hot tub!

Regular use of hot tubs may also help to diminish the appearance of cellulite. These fatty deposits usually gather on the hips, thighs, and buttocks.

By improving circulation to the areas affected by cellulite, the appearance of the unsightly deposits can be reduced. Hot tub hydrotherapy stimulates blood vessels, tones the body tissue, reduces fluid retention, and relieves swelling. All of these benefits combined can result in the reduction of the appearance of cellulite.

Back Pain

Ask anyone who owns one: they will tell you that they feel better after using their spa. For hundreds of years Europeans have used hot water spa therapy as a treatment for various chronic diseases. In fact, the Romans developed a fabulous hot springs resort in Bath, England sometime after their invasion in 43 A.D.

The effectiveness of such therapy for chronic low back pain has not been well documented until recently. In 1995, a study published in the British Journal of Rheumatology reported that spa use has short and long-term benefits.

A later French study published in the Journal of Rheumatology studied the overall benefits of hot water spa therapy. Examinations of the hydrotherapy group showed less pain and more flexibility in three weeks over the medication-only group.

After six months, significant improvement continued in the spa therapy group. In addition, their use of pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs had decreased.

Cardiovascular Health

The Mayo Clinic found in a recent study that soaking in your hot tub simulates exercise. Therefore, soaking in one gives you some of the same health benefits of exercise but with less heart stress. A hot tub increases heart rate and lowers blood pressure. Other forms of exercise raise blood pressure significantly.

The article Mayo Clinic OK's Spas for Heart Patients states that hot tubs pose less risk to heart patients. The report stated that spa use can put less stress on your heart than an exercise bicycle.

The research examined the body temperature and heart stress of 15 patients at risk for heart disease. The studies showed that exercise caused blood pressure to rise from an average of 121/73 to 170/84. In contrast, sitting in a spa made the blood pressure drop from an average of 117/77 to 106/61.

The article states that in a hot tub, the heart beats faster. Heart disease patients may want to know if the stress placed on the heart is too great. If you suffer from heart disease, consult with your physician first.

Benefits for Athletes

Professional sports teams have long known the value of hot tub hydrotherapy.  Now weekend athletes can use the same therapy to aid in relieving minor aches and pains and sore muscles. Neck and back pain, sports injuries, spasms and soreness are often eased by a soak in the spa.

It is also good preventative medicine. Since skin and muscles loosen with increased circulation, improvement in athletic performance is seen using hot tubs before/after exercise.

Prior to athletic activity, soaking relaxes and loosens muscles, and can reduce the risk of injury while improving overall performance.

After physical exercise of any kind, hot soaking helps you relax your muscles and wind back down. It can also significantly reduce next-day muscle stiffness.

Note: If you have a sports injury, consult with your physician before using a hot tub. It is often necessary to treat swollen areas with cold first. You doctor will likely advise you to avoid hot water until swelling of an injury has subsided. When the swelling is gone, the massaging action of warm water circulation will generally help speed the healing process.


For easy access, consider the addition of spa steps and handrail.

Tax Deductions & Insurance Benefits

You may qualify for a income tax deduction if your spa is used as a medical treatment. If your doctor advises you to follow a regular program of water exercise, the expense may qualify.

There is an IRS opinion letter (Index No.: 213.05-00) supporting this claim. This allows a deduction for "...expenses paid during the taxable year for medical care of the taxpayer, spouse, or dependent."

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