The revitalizing effect of baths is no secret. From the therapeutic communal bathhouses of ancient Rome to the Turkish hamams of the Ottoman Empire, people have been soaking their aching joints for centuries.
Hydrotherapy, or water therapy, is still fairly common among those with physical ailments. Colleen Milton, a physical therapist in San Francisco, Calif., leads her patients through exercises in whirlpool baths and swimming pools.
While hydrotherapy can include anything from soaking in a hot tub to administering cold compresses, "baths are particularly relaxing for people suffering from arthritis and other forms of chronic pain," said Milton. "Water can facilitate physical rehabilitation and increase relaxation, and it's wonderful for pain relief."
According to Milton, hot baths promote dilation of blood vessels, which provides increased circulation in parts of the body undergoing treatment
A recent study at the Mayo Clinic also revealed that soaking in a hot tub provides benefits similar to those that come with exercise, because it increases the heart rate while lowering blood pressure.
Hydrotherapy has also scored major points among practitioners of alternative medicine, as well as spas like Tea Garden Springs, in Mill Valley, Calif., which draw clientele with lavish aromatherapy bath treatments. Spa meccas like Calistoga, Calif., also court wealthy spa-goers year round with whirlpool mineral baths and natural hot springs, which are thought to promote health and healing.
"Nothing is more relaxing than a soak in a hot tub," said Milton. "But cool baths can also alleviate itching and side effects of skin disorders like eczema."