Hydrotherapy involves the use of water as a treatment for disease. It is one of several types of naturopathy. Naturopathy is a system of treatment that applies the most natural method or agent to restore health. Other types of naturopathy include herbal medicine, nutrition counseling, therapeutic massage, and acupuncture. Hydrotherapy may help treat various conditions, including arthritis, stomach issues, sleep disorders, stress, and depression.

Natural treatment does not guarantee a risk-free solution. Like any form of treatment, naturopathic therapies must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. A doctor should assess personal factors that can interfere with treatment. The use of prescription medications, for example, must be considered before applying naturopathic methods.    

How Hydrotherapy Works

The theory behind hydrotherapy is simple. Water has healing properties that can relieve various ailments and conditions. In its different forms—ice, liquid, and steam—water is a versatile treatment method. Water can cool, cleanse, and heat. In addition, techniques such as massage and yoga can be performed in water. Internal forms of hydrotherapy involve drinking water or receiving fluids through an intravenous (IV) infusion.  

There remains little debate concerning hydrotherapy for certain ailments. A commonly accepted treatment for sprains is the application of ice to the affected area because cold reduces blood flow. To the opposite effect, heat from steam works well to relieve muscle aches. When it comes to other medical conditions, however, the use of hydrotherapy is more complex and controversial.

Studies have examined the benefits of using cold-water therapy for depression patients. This can include immersing the body in water, applying a whole-body wrap, and administering a cold shower. Although there may be some benefit to lowering brain temperature to improve symptoms of depression, research shows that excessively cold temperatures can have a negative effect.  

Pros of Hydrotherapy

Most forms of hydrotherapy are considered safe. Still, studies do not show that complementary medicine works more effectively than depression medications. The prevailing expert view tends to focus on a balance of standard treatment rather than using only naturopathic treatments. For example, someone may combine prescription medications and talk therapy, along with complementary methods.

Cons of Hydrotherapy

Results of individual naturopathic treatments vary. Although hydrotherapy might be useful in treating many conditions, there are still risks and complications associated with it. For instance, applying excessive heat or cold directly to skin for too long can result in tissue damage or pain. And patients who drink excessive amounts of water in too short a time period might develop mineral imbalances in their blood. Most forms of hydrotherapy require further study as there is little scientific evidence supporting their effectiveness.

What the Expert Says

Although there seem to be advantages to combining mind-body methods with traditional science, the Mayo Clinic advises, “Relying solely on these [alternative] therapies is not enough to treat depression.”

According Peter Bongiorno, a naturopathic doctor and licensed acupuncturist, there is promising evidence in the combined use of naturopathic therapies to treat depression. In his article “Physical Medicine for Depression,” published in Naturopathic Doctor News & Review, he defends naturopathy. He states although physical medicine is not a recommended monotherapy, it “can be part of a patient’s return toward a healthy mood and sense of well-being” when combined with other naturopathic treatments.

Each patient has unique physical and emotional needs. Treatment plans will vary for each individual. There are various types of hydrotherapy to consider, as well as other factors, such as existing conditions that might interact negatively with hydrotherapy treatment. Any depression patient seeking alternative treatment should consult with their doctor before beginning a new therapy.