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The use of water in the help overcome disease is as old as the practice of medicine. Records of the writing of Hippocrates indicate its use as early as 450 B.C. Hydrotherapy was used extensively in the Roman baths but interest in water therapies waned during the dark ages. John Wesley published a book entitled, Primitive Physick, which included many old remedies. He suggested water applications for conditions such as asthma, colds, colic, rickets, headaches, whooping cough, rheumatism, swelling, and sciatic. Wesley referred to hydrotherapy as “an easy and natural way of curing most disease.”

Vincent Priessnitz (1799-1851) is known as the father of hydrotherapy. When he was a young man, he was seriously injured by a farm animal and the physicians help out no hope for his recovery. Preissnitz decided to treat himself as he had previously treated injured farm animals. His method – hydrotherapy. After a rapid recovery he started experimenting with other treatments and found that sweat baths, cold baths, wet sheet packs, and many other local water treatments were of tremendous benefit for a variety of different health problems. He established a hydrotherapy institute in Austria. Many came to learn of his methods.

Modern hydrotherapy can also be traced in 19th century Europe with the development of spas for "water cure" ailments, ranging from anxiety to pneumonia to back pain. Father Sebastian Kneipp, a 19th century Bavarian monk, spurred a movement to recognize the benefits of hydrotherapy which he learned from Preissnitz. His methods were later adopted by Benedict Lust who immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1896, and founded an American school of naturopathic medicine. This coincided with Dr. John Kellogg at the Western Health Reform Institute (which was renamed to Battle Creek Sanitarium) which was practicing hydrotherapy in Battle Creek Michigan noted in his book, Rational Hydrotherapy. Lust claimed to have cured himself of tuberculosis with Kneipp's methods, and hydrotherapy was included as a component of naturopathic medicine. In modern times, a wide variety of water-related therapies are used.

During the mid 1850’s a number of water-cure institutes were established in the United States. One of these was established in New Jersey by Dr. Thatcher Trall. He was the editor of a popular magazine entitled “The Water Cure Journal.” This magazine did much to educate lay people regarding the cause of disease and the preference of simple measures to drugs. Dr. James Jackson conducted another of these institutes. He took over a water cure establishment located in Danville, NY and made it famous.

After twenty years of practicing as a physician, he wrote: “In my entire practice I have never given a dose of medicine; not so much as I should have administered had I taken a naturopathic pellet of the seventh-millionth dilution, and dissolving it in Lake Superior, given my patients of its waters…. I have used in the treatment of my patients the following – air, food, water, sunlight, dress, exercise, sleep, rest, social influences, and mental and moral forces. On the other hand I have treated every variety of chronic diseases known to the medical men of North America and have also treated a very large number of the acute disease known to them. My success has been such as to justify the statement that at least ninety-five percent of all who have come under my professional supervision have been so helped during the time they stayed with me or have been so thoroughly cured while under my care as to be perfectly satisfied with the benefits received” (How to Treat the Sick without Medicine. Pages 25,26).

In 1919 a great flu epidemic killed an estimated 25 million people. The Battle Creek Sanitarium used hydrotherapy along with judicious nursing to treat the flu, and those who received this care survived. During this time Simon Baruch wrote of this event: “Of all remedial agents in use since the dawn of medicine, water is the only one what has survived all the vicissitudes of doctrinal changes because its rise or fall was always contemporaneous with the rise and fall of intelligence among medical men. (Physical Medicine, 1941 by Krussen)

Hydrotherapy has been used historically for the help of symptoms related to rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Multiple studies have been published, largely based on therapy given at Dead Sea spa sites in Israel. There is preliminary evidence that some hydrotherapy techniques may reduce bacteria on the surface of the skin.

Hydrotherapy is used in Europe for chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), a syndrome that may include leg swelling, varicose veins, leg pain, itching, and skin ulcers. A small number of trials have applied cold water stimulation alone or in combination with warm water, and reported improvements in cramps and itching when compared to no therapy.

Today, sadly only a few small conditioning centers or lifestyle centers practice hydrotherapy. Come and experience the true healing power of water.