• Constitutional Hydrotherapy

Constitutional Hydrotherapy

What is it?

The healing properties of water are countless. Constitutional hydrotherapy is a special technique that greatly improves recovery from many illnesses, both acute and chronic. It helps to normalize circulation, sooth the nervous system, stimulate detoxifying and eliminative processes, strengthen and heal the digestive system and stimulate the immune system and vital force. This therapy is subtle yet very powerful with virtually no potential for harm when performed by a qualified naturopathic physician.


A Brief History

Hydrotherapy is one of the oldest methods of healing and has been utilized in most ancient cultures in some form or another for thousands of years. The basic definition of hydrotherapy is the use of water at various temperatures to create a therapeutic effect on the body. The modern evolution of Naturopathic Hydrotherapy began with the techniques of Father Sebastian Kneipp of Germany, and Vincent Priessnitz of Austria/Czech Republic. Kneipp and Priessnitz used hydrotherapy to heal themselves from major illness: Kneipp from Tuberculosis and Priessnitz from severely broken ribs. Their clinics were made especially famous when they achieved extraordinary rates of healing during Europe's most deadly disease epidemics. Priessnitz treated about 45,000 patients and only 45 (.1%) of them died during outbreaks of the epidemic diseases such as syphilis and smallpox that carried much higher death rates at the time. Constitutional hydrotherapy evolved out of these traditions when naturopathic doctor O.G. Carroll pioneered a style of in-office hydrotherapy derived from Kneipp combining the use of hot and cold towels with modern physiotherapy devices.


How does it work?

Hydrotherapy works well because it stimulate the body's own healing force. This therapy is called “constitutional hydrotherapy” because it changes the very constitution of each individual cell. Each cell in your body is stimulated to excrete waste products, utilize nutrition more efficiently and work more effectively. You can rebuild your metabolism and regenerate your health with this amazing therapy by enhancing the oxygenation and circulation of blood and lymph, promoting better digestion of food and nutrition to the cells, increasing the oxidation and elimination of toxins (i.e. via sweat through the skin or bowel), strengthening the general defense of the body and assisting in the restoration of nervous equilibrium.

Constitutional hydrotherapy also helps build the blood by increasing desirable elements, such as red and white blood cells, nutrients, and oxygen. In addition, water treatments improve immune functioning by nourishing the reticuloendothelial system, through which our illness-fighting white blood cells recognize invaders and are guided to the tissues where they are needed.


Mechanism of Action

When you place a hot towel on the skin it brings the blood and other fluids up to the surface in order to maintain the body's homeostasis. When the hot towel is followed by a cold one, blood vessels constrict and blood moves back down into the organs and center of the body. If the cool towel is left on the skin, the body will eventually move the warm blood back up to the surface in order to warm the towel. Therefore, in the simple placement of two alternating towels you've created an oscillatory effect that moves the fluid outward and inward through a full cycle. This not only pushes blood through the liver, skin, kidneys and lungs, but it restores balance to the abdominal organs via the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The last cold towel, in particular, causes a reflex that stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which mediates the repair of the body, digestion of food and pushes immune cells into the blood stream via the lymphatic tissue in the abdomen. This combination cleans the blood via the organs of elimination, and strengthens the blood via the white blood cells (WBCs).

Boyle, Wade, ND and Saine, Andre, ND, Lectures in Naturopathic Hydrotherapy, Sandy: Eclectic Medical Publications, 1988: 17-18.


The Use of Physiotherapy Devices
What is a Sine Wave machine?

Electrical Sine Wave pads are placed on either side of the spine just below the shoulders. The pads deliver a non-painful mild electrical current to the muscles, which feels like a buzzing or tickling sensation. The Sine Wave is used with almost every hydrotherapy treatment and in two different places at different stages of the treatment. In the first setting it influences the stomach, pancreas, gallbladder, and liver through a gentle sensory stimulation of the spinal nerves along the back. In the second setting it is placed on the solar plexus in the abdomen to treat the kidneys through spinal reflexes.

The hot and cold towel contrast "pumps up" blood circulation through the expansion and contraction of tissues, affects digestion, and increases eliminations while the Sine Wave stimulates muscle groups and deeper organs and tissues into increased activity. Together they "jump start" the immune system and help to bring about a needed detoxification process, also known as "biopurification" or "healing crisis." This is a method of detoxifying a congested nervous system and tissues.


Evidence Based Hydrotherapy

Studies recently done at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine and Windrose Clinic determined that constitutional hydrotherapy raises a low basal body temperature, moderates low or high blood sugar and blood pressure. Hydrotherapy researchers have shown that a reflex increase in blood flow occurs in internal organs when the circulation to the overlying skin is stimulated. This internal reaction is responsible for the long lasting and cumulative effects of a series of hydrotherapy treatments. Research has further shown that the beneficial effects on the immune system last for up to 24 hours making this a very effective therapy for any disorder involving immune function. Considerably, 2-8 hours after a single hydrotherapy treatment, one can expect to find an increase in white blood cells at an average of 10,000 more cells in circulation. Thus, constitutional hydrotherapy is a rapid way to boost your immune function and fight any infection, including the antibiotic resistant bacteria. One study demonstrates that hydrotherapy will boost immune function, eliminate excess fluid, and reduce the incidence of colds and flu by 50%.
Ernst, E., Pecho, E., Wirz, P., Saradeth, T., “Regular Sauna Bathing and the Incidence of Common Colds,” Annals of Medicine, 22.4 (1990): 225-7.



The benefits of constitutional hydrotherapy include improvement in sleep, digestion, bowel function, energy levels and chronic pain.

In a single one hour treatment, constitutional hydrotherapy:

  • Enhances immunity via the blood cells in the abdominal lymphatic tissue
  • Improves digestion by enhancing peristalsis via the nervous system
  • Increases enzymatic output of the pancreas, gallbladder, and stomach
  • Improves nutrient transportation to cells
  • Cleans and strengthens the blood by improving circulation and function of the organs of elimination and increasing white blood cells (WBCs)
    • Early naturopaths identified five organs as “emunctories,” organs of elimination that remove waste products from the body- liver, kidneys, lungs, gastrointestinal tract, and skin
    • If blood flow is stagnant, the toxic burden increases in these organs of elimination and results in illness
  • Increases lymphatic circulation
  • Balances the tone of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) via the spinal and sensory reflexes
  • Benefits patients of all ages


What conditions are best treated?

Constitutional hydrotherapy may be used when experiencing a fever or febrile illness as well as to fend off illnesses that you feel coming on. It may be used for acute infections such as colds, flus, sinusitis, whooping cough, bronchitis or pneumonia as well as chronic conditions such as asthma, psoriasis, irritable bowel, Crohn’s disease, constipation, cancer, migraines, arthritis or chronic fatigue.


What to expect during a treatment session?

Before starting therapy, the practitioner may conduct a physical examination to diagnose your condition.

Treatment starts with you laying face-up on an examination table, the therapist will cover your torso with two hot, wet towels, wrung out so that they are moist but not dripping, and folded in half. The temperature of the towels will be about 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the towels are in place, the therapist will wrap you in a cotton sheet, followed by several wool blankets. The hot towels are left in place for 5 minutes.

Next, the therapist will replace the cooled hot towels with a set of new hot towels.

The second set of cooled hot towels will be quickly replaced with one cold towel, which will remain on the chest for 10 minutes. Again, you will be wrapped up in the blanket.

During application of the cold wet towels, the therapist will place the electrical Sine Wave pads on either side of your spine just below the shoulders and will run the sine wave machine for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, the therapist will remove the cold towels and reposition the pads, one placed on the center of the lumbar or lower back area and the other located just under your rib cage in the solar plexus region. The sine wave machine will then run for another 10 minutes, without any hot or cold towels.

The entire process is then repeated as you lie face-down and at the end of the treatment, the therapist will rub your back with a dry towel, known as the “friction rub” to awaken your skin and body.

Treatment Time: Each session takes about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Treatment Frequency: Depending on the condition, as many as 15 sessions may be recommended; children may require fewer treatments. We have found that for best results, constitutional hydrotherapy should be repeated 3 to 4 times per week. For an acute condition, like the flu, for example, it is suggested to perform constitutional hydrotherapy every day for 3-4 consecutive days. For a chronic condition, therapy is often recommended 2-3 times a week for several weeks. Treatments are most successful when administered close together.


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