Traditionally, "hydrotherapy" means the use of various forms of water for therapeutic effect. This includes ice, heat packs and contrast towels. More recently, "hyrdotherapy" has come to include thermal applications that are not water, like wax baths, freezable gel packs, thermaphores (moist electric heating pads), hyrdocollators (gel filled heat packs).
It's important to know when to use either heat or cold for an injury.
Too often when someone has back pain, they will automatically apply a heat pack to the area, only to find themselves hours later in a great deal more pain. Do NOT put a heat pack on an acute injury (See "Acute / Subacute / Chronic" for a definition of "acute".)
It bears repeating that an "acute" injury includes pain and immobility due to sudden movement. For example: you are raking leaves and you turn suddenly and now you can't straighten up all the way and you feel pain in your back. This is an ACUTE injury and you should apply a COLD hydrotherapy.
Also note that you can have an 'acute flare up' of a chronic injury. For example: You had a car accident five years ago and had whiplash and pain down the left side of your neck. Five years later it doesn't cause pain, but yesterday you turned quickly to back your car up and now you have that familiar pain in the left side of your neck. This is an 'ACUTE flare up' of an old injury and you should apply COLD.
Here is the basic outline of what type of hydrotherapy you should use during each stage of healing for an injury:
ACUTE: use COLD
SUBACUTE: use CONTRAST
CHRONIC: use HEAT
Examples of Hydrotherapy Modalities:
COLD = a cold gel pack, cold compress (wrap each of these in a cold, wet towel - do NOT apply directly on the skin.) or a cold towel compress (towel or cloth soaked in cold water, wrung out and applied, covered with an insulating towel.) Apply any of these modalities for 25-30 minutes.
CONTRAST = Alternating heat and cold hydrotherapy. The ratio used is 3:1 ( 3 minutes of heat : 1 minute of cold (or 30 seconds, depending on your tolerance level.)). Always end with the cold application.
HEAT = thermaphore (moist electric heating pad), hyrdocollator (gel filled heat pack), hot water bottle (wrap in a towel), hot compress (towel or cloth soaked in hot water, wrung out and applied. Cover with an insulating towel.) Apply any one of these modalities for up to 10 minutes. NOTE: Never lie on top of any of these heat sources.
Do NOT use heat if you have an infection - do not place it directly on an acute injury or muscle spasm - but also do not use it if you have a systemic infection - for example; sinus, ear, or lung infections.
People who have sensory changes, poor circulation or any sort or cardiovascular (heart or blood circulation) condition should check with their doctor before using any of the above treatments.
If you have any questions regarding the above information, feel free to email me, or consult with your physician or other health care provider.