By: Ana Valerio, Doctor of Pharmacy
Water as Treatment for Pain
The application of water as a treatment for musculoskeletal pain has been used since ancient times in different cultures around the globe. Balneotherapy, also known as spa therapy, is defined as bathing in natural mineral or thermal waters for therapeutic purposes. It is usually practiced in spas in a therapeutic environment, or as part of a therapy program.
Although the terms balneotherapy and hydrotherapy are frequently confused, hydrotherapy usually involves the use of normal tap water, while balneotherapy uses thermal mineral water from natural springs, natural gases and mud.
Water has always been given an important place in human culture, and the naturally occurring minerals found in spring water are presumed to contribute to its therapeutic effect. For instance, in ancient Greece, public bathing places were considered to be sacred, used for recreation and also as places of recuperation for wounded soldiers. Nowadays, Greece is still rich in spa locations, used for the treatment of a variety of conditions, such as psoriasis and other dermatological conditions.
Who Does Balneotherapy Help?
Balneotherapy has been extensively applied for the treatment of painful rheumatic disorders, such as osteoarthritis, gout and rheumatoid arthritis. Fibromyalgia is a debilitating condition of almost unknown etiology and pathogenesis, characterized by chronic widespread pain and tenderness. Currently, no pharmacological treatment for fibromyalgia is consistently effective.
Due to the complexity of this condition and the poor response to pharmacological treatments, patients often search for complementary or alternative therapies. While the precise soothing and healing mechanisms of warm water are still not fully understood, the application of balneotherapy to complement the treatment of fibromyalgia can be an effective solution.
Balneotherapy for Fibromyalgia
The specifics as to how balneotherapy alleviates the symptoms of fibromyalgia are complex, and not completely known. Bathing in mineral or thermal water may have beneficial effects that result from a combination of mechanical, thermal and chemical factors.
Positive Effects of Balneotherapy
The effect of warm temperature and pressure of water on the skin in water treatments and thermal mud baths has been shown to:
- reduce joint swelling
- decrease muscular tension and pain
- relieve muscle spasm
- induce mental relaxation and reduce anxiety
- increase the plasma levels of opioid peptides produced by the body, such as endorphins, which inhibit the transmission of pain
- reduction in circulating levels of prostaglandins and leukotrienes, which are mediators of inflammation and pain
Other non-specific effects of this therapy may also play an important role in the well-being of patients, such as the relaxing atmosphere, physical therapy, physical and mental relaxation, the absence of house and work duties and the presence of other companions suffering from the same condition.
The integration of nonpharmacological interventions in the management of fibromyalgia has been gaining significant recognition. Balneotherapy offers effective treatment methods that can be adapted to the abilities and preferences of each patient, without showing significant side effects. Balneotherapy for fibromyalgia cannot substitute conventional therapy, but can represent a complementary approach or an alternative for patients who do not tolerate pharmacological treatments.