The Meaning of Balneotherapy
Balneotherapy massage is the treatment of disease by bathing, usually practiced at spas. While it is considered distinct from hydrotherapy, there are some overlaps in practice and in underlying principles. Balneotherapy may involve hot or cold water, massage through moving water, relaxation or stimulation. Many mineral waters at spas are rich in particular minerals (silica, sulfur, selenium, radium) which can be absorbed through the skin. Medicinal clays are also widely used, which practice is known as 'fangotherapy'.
Balneology is the practice of bathing as a way to stimulate health and cure some disorders. Evidence has been found of human beings using hot springs since the Bronze Age. The practice of bathing for health is still part of some cultures, but in others, it has been rejected because of claims that it is a sham. Most often, the water in which the bathing takes place has been imbued with some kind of mineral, though simply cold or hot water has also been used to massage the body.
The Origin of Balneology
The study of balneology began with the discovery of hot springs. These naturally steaming waters are often imbued with minerals which are beneficial to the skin. Historically, public bathhouses were offered in many countries, such as Italy, to promote everyone's health and well-being. During the Roman empire, heated baths were open to the public. Bath attendants, who doubled as doctors, took care of the facilities and recommended which types of soaks would be the most helpful to each person.
The Characteristics of Balneotherapy
The term "balneotherapy" is generally applied to everything relating to spa treatment, including the drinking of waters and the use of hot baths and natural vapor baths, as well as of the various kinds of mud and sand used for hot applications. Balneotherapy refers to the medical use of these spas, as opposed to recreational use. Common minerals found in spa waters are sodium, magnesium, calcium and iron, as well as arsenic, lithium, potassium, manganese, bromine, and iodine. All these may be contained in the peat that is commonly used in preparation of spa waters. Resorts may also add minerals or essential oils to naturally-occurring hot springs. Though balneotherapy commonly refers to mineral baths, the term may also apply to water treatments using regular hot or cold tap water.
Mud-baths are also included in balneotherapy, and the dirt and water used to mix mud baths may also contain minerals which are thought to have beneficial properties.
The Medical Benefits of Balneotherapy
- Bicarbonate helps open peripheral blood vessels. Sulfur can help with some kinds of skin conditions, and inhaling the fumes can improve respiratory problems. Sodium chloride can be beneficial in that it helps with arthritis. When used in small doses, boron can strengthen the muscles.
- The constant bubbling of hot springs or the pressure of water jets in modern bathtubs can provide a soothing massage, while the heat encourages stressed muscles to loosen up.
- Some disorders balneology may alleviate include arthritis, sports injuries, poor circulation, and skin conditions. Some hot springs even make the claim that they can help with infertility.
- Balneotherapy may be recommended for wide range of illnesses, including arthritis, skin conditions and fibromyalgia.