"Hey Kate, What is hydrotherapy and how should I use it?" you might ask. "Hydrotherapy," I would answer, "Is the use of water for therapeutic reasons"
The term can refer to drinking extra water to help flush toxins from your system, released during a bodywork session. But more often hydrotherapy is used to describe using heat or cold to encourage the body's healing process.
Hot (Thermo) Hydrotherapy
Using heat can be very comforting to tense muscles, though I would not encourage it on injured muscles alone. Contrast hydotherapy (the use of both hot and cold) is ok, but I am getting ahead of myself. The idea with using heat is that it increases blood flow and thus nutrients, hydration, white blood cells and other good stuff to an area that needs it. Hot hydrotherapy can come from an electric heating pad, a hot water bottle, hot tub, sauna, steam room, hot shower, etc. As with all forms of hydrotherapy, it is key to not overdue it; do not use heat for more than about 15-20 minutes, or else it will increase inflammation in the area and be counterproductive to healing and relaxation.
Cold (Cryo) Hydrotherapy
Using cold packs is great! I highly encourage using more cold packs - this coming from someone who used to hate even the thought of ice packs. But I've learned, you don't have to use ice - just using cool is even beneficial. Cold therapy slows down muscle spasm, calms down the inflammation response, and actually can increase circulation, just like hot hydrotherapy. Cryotherapy can come from ice cubes in a plastic bag, a cold pack, a frozen bag of peas, or even submersion in a bathtub of cold water, augmented with several trays worth of ice cubes. Again, do not overuse any form of cold hydrotherapy - use cold for max 15-20 minutes, otherwise it becomes counterproductive, just like in hot hydrotherapy.
Contrast (Hot-and-Cold) Hydrotherapy
Contrast therapy is a really great way to get the benefits and comforts of both hot and cold hydrotherapies. The cold calms down spasming muslces, while the heat keeps from the area from up too much. Contrast hydrotherapy is invigorating and the routine ensures that you don't get bored or distracted and leave a cold or hot pack on for too long. It can be seen as more work, but if you use a shower to switch from cold to hot and back again, it can be a pretty convenient and effective way to get the maximum benefits from both hot and cold. There are two 'rules' to keep in mind with contrast therapy. 1) Use the ratio of 1:3 for cold and hot therapies. Use a cold pack for 1 minute, followed by a hot pack for 3 minutes, and so on. Or use cold for 3 minutes and warm for 9 minutes, etc. And 2) Always end on cold, to discourage inflammation.