Hydrotherapy, formerly called hydropathy, involves the use of water for pain-relief and treating illness. The term hydrotherapy itself is synonymous with the term water cure as it was originally marketed by practitioners and promoters in the 19th century. A hydrotherapist therefore, is someone who practices hydrotherapy.
Water cure has since come to have two opposing definitions, which can cause confusion.
(a) Water cure therapy – a course of medical treatment by hydrotherapy (b) water cure torture – a form of torture in which a person is forced to drink large quantities of water.
The sense used in this article is the first one, synonymous with the term hydrotherapy, and which precedes recorded use of the second sense.
Hydrotherapy in general encompases a range of approaches and their definitions. These range from approaches and definitions which are either naturally distinct, or made so for marketing purposes, to approaches and definitions which overlap significantly, and which can be difficult to disentangle.
One such overlap pertains to spas. According to the International SPA Association (ISPA), hydrotherapy has long been a staple in European spas. It is the term for water therapies using jets, underwater massage and mineral baths (e.g. balneotherapy, Iodine-Grine therapy, Kneipp treatments, Scotch hose, Swiss shower, thalassotherapy) and others. It also can mean a whirlpool bath, hot Roman bath, hot tub, Jacuzzi, cold plunge and mineral bath. These treatments use physical water properties, such as temperature and pressure, for therapeutic purposes, to stimulate blood circulation and treat the symptoms of certain diseases.