The use of hydrotherapy is one of the oldest traditional treatments. There are many different types of hydrotherapy, including baths, steams, pour-over therapies, and the application of wet towels or sheets. In this case we are interested in contrast hydrotherapy, or using water that alternates from hot to cold to stimulate circulation and immune system function.
Warm water vasodilates, improving circulation to peripheral tissues (like the nose, sinuses, hands and feet). Cold water vasoconstricts, reducing circulation to peripheral tissues and increasing circulation to vital organs (like the heart and lungs). Alternating warm and cold water further increases circulation and acts as a physiologic pump, increasing the flow of lymphatic tissue. This improves immune system function by forcing the movement of immune cells (white blood cells) in and out of circulation. One study even shows improvement in bronchial function after cold applications.
This is a great summary of the various uses of hydrotherapy: Scientific Evidence-Based Effects of Hydrotherapy on Various Systems of the Body
You may also want to check out our article on how to do Hydrotherapy for Chest Colds in Children
Physicians & healthcare providers you can click here to download a handout to use in your practice.
What’s so “magic” about wet socks?
“Magic” warming socks is a hydrotherapy treatment used for relieving inflammation or congestion around the head and neck. Though the socks start cold we call it “warming” because the feet end up warmer than they started!
This treatment can be used for sore throats, ear infections, sinusitis, headaches, migraines, and more. It works especially well when congested from the common cold. Cooling the feet creates a vasoconstrictive effect in the feet, hands, nose and ears as the body shunts blood away from the periphery toward vital organs. As the feet heat back up the blood vessels in peripheral tissues dilate, carrying white blood cells, our main immune infection-fighters. The best part: It’s cheap, easy, and much safer than using over-the-counter decongestants. And yes, it really works!
Who should not do hydrotherapy?
Any patient with decreased sensations (diabetics, patients who are paralyzed, etc.) should not do cold hydrotherapy. Patients with open ulcers of the feet or severe rashes should not do cold hydrotherapy.
Other cautions for hydrotherapy
This is not a substitute for other medical treatments, but can typically be used alongside them. Use extreme caution to make sure the water temperature is not too cold for your child (it should not “burn”). Patients must be warm and should NOT be chilled prior to adding the cold socks.
- 1 pair white cotton socks
- 1 pair thick wool socks
- Warm bath or shower
- Have your child take a warm bath or shower. Do not start the magic socks if your child is cold. The child should feel very warm before putting on the socks.
- Soak the cotton socks in ice-cold water. Wring out the excess water.
- Place the cold wet socks on the feet. Cover with thick wool socks. Wear warm pajamas and put the child to bed immediately.
- Keep both layers of socks on overnight. In the morning you will find that the wet cotton socks are warm and dry!
This treatment really is incredibly simple, but can be unbelievably effective. If the patient breaks a fever overnight they make soak through their pajamas. If this is the case then change the pajamas, but leave the socks on until morning.