Among the many modalities that can be used to manage neck and back pain, the use of a hot tub is usually one of the pleasurable indulgences that many have taken advantage of or have at least thought of. Patients will often ask if there is benefit to using a hot tub.
Historically, the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians used mineral spas as a form of therapy and relaxation. As technology has advanced, all types and sizes of whirlpool spas and hot tubs that supposedly offer the same health benefits and more, are readily available today. While there are very few scientific studies that have been published on this subject, anecdotally some claim multiple health benefits from the regular use of a hot tub.
Using a hot tub or hydrotherapy refers to the use of water to maintain general health or treat a specific condition. Marketing efforts focus on three principles that include heat, massage, and buoyancy. Moist heat causes blood vessels to dilate thereby allowing for muscle relaxation and decreased blood pressure. This can bring about a temporary relief of muscle soreness and joint pains especially in those who suffer from arthritis and for those who suffer from back spasms. Added benefit can come from spray nozzles or jets that offer a concentrated stream of water to massage specific areas of the back and neck. It has been theorized that this also contributes to improved circulation which is powerful in the healing process. Another positive aspect of hot tub use comes from the principle of buoyancy. When we are immersed in a hot tub or spa, most of our bodyweight is supported by the water. This can alleviate pressure off the weight bearing joints. For some, this can allow them to try and obtain greater gains in joint range of motion for stiff and painful joints.
Beyond the positive benefits aforementioned, are there any downsides or reasons one should not use a hot tub or spa? There are a few things that one must consider when considering to use a hot tub. First, you should not go into a hot tub with any open wounds or sores. Secondly, even though it may sound overly relaxing, drinking and soaking in a hot tub is a bad combination! The use of alcohol can cause dehydration and heat exhaustion leading to confusion and fainting. If you have a heart condition, you should always check with your physician before using a hot tub.
While I am not advocating everyone to run out and buy a hot tub, the use of one can be beneficial at reducing stress, improved circulation, total relaxation, and improved sleep.
- Kamioka H, Tsutani K, Okuizumi H, Mutoh Y, Ohta M, Handa S, Okada S, Kitayuguchi J, Kamada M, Shiozawa N, Honda T. Effectiveness of aquatic exercise and balneotherapy: a summary of systematic reviews based on randomized controlled trials of water immersion therapies. J Epidemiol. 2010;20(1):2-12. PubMed PMID: 19881230