Call it low-tech medicine. Hippocrates, a doctor in ancient Greece, was prescribing baths for skin conditions, backaches, joint pain, and other maladies in the 4th century B.C. And some of his advice still holds water today. Studies on the bath are limited and inconclusive. Most findings about its healing properties are based on observational evidence by doctors and physical therapists. Baths seem to temporarily stimulate blood circulation and may help to reduce swelling and pain, depending on the condition. Some studies also suggest that baths can help to relieve low back and rheumatoid arthritis pain, but without reliable evidence to draw a firm conclusion. Among the benefits some ascribe to baths:
- Soaking in a bathtub is an easy way to treat large areas of skin. A bath, depending on the water temperature, can be used to help relieve itching, hives, dry or crusty skin, inflamed or chafed skin, and poison ivy or oak.
- A warm bath may help you relax if you're anxious or tense. The drop in body temperature after the bath may help those who can't sleep.
- Being in water takes the weight off joints and muscles. This may ease the pain and soreness of arthritis or non-acute sports injuries.
- A bath may reduce the pain of inflammation, menstrual cramps, or minor burns. It may also soothe tired feet.
- Sitting in a warm tub may be helpful in healing hemorrhoids and certain rectal problems.
- During childbirth, a bath may ease labor pain, but this is not appropriate for all women, depending on the history and stage of labor. Afterwards, a bath may be part of episiotomy care and childbirth recovery.
- Warm water can help ease muscle spasms.
Soak it up
There are many types of baths. A popular soak is the Sitz bath. Only your hips, buttocks, and lower abdomen are immersed. You can sit in a bucket-like tub of warm water to keep your upper body, legs, and feet out of the water.
Your doctor may suggest that you add special ingredients to your bath. For example, oatmeal can help relieve itchy conditions like chickenpox.
Extended baths are not for everyone. Ask your doctor whether bath therapy is right for you, particularly if you have a circulation problem, a skin condition, are pregnant, or have an implanted medical device. Follow basic safety measures, too.
- Use a bath mat so the tub is not slippery.
- Avoid using bubble bath, especially if you have frequent urinary tract infections.
- Use warm or cool water, depending on your condition. Never use water that is too hot. Hot water can cause burns and worsen itching. Pregnant women should not bathe in hot water.
- Don't soak for more than 30 minutes per day. Bathing more often can irritate skin.
- Keep the bathroom warm to minimize temperature change.
- Make sure you are hydrated before the bath.
- After the bath, blot your skin with a towel; don't rub.
Created on 02/13/2008
Updated on 09/07/2011
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- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. In brief: your guide to healthy sleep.