Romans introduced hot baths and central heating to Britain, then left


So we shrugged off foreign customs and went back to our old ways.

During the following centuries, we generally thought one bath a year was sufficient;  except for eccentrics like Queen Elizabeth I, who took a monthly bath “whether Her Majesty doth need it or no”.


It wasn’t until the The Grand Tour of the Continent became the fashionable thing to do, that young bloods sent off by their parents to travel the Continent and learn some manners, discovered weird foreigners indulging in ‘taking the waters’, and bought the custom back to Britain.

However, we don’t have many natural hot springs like the Continent, so British bathing was rather more spartan;  Regency Society would travel to places like Brighton or Worthing and hire a bathing machine, often presided over by a ‘dipper’ whose job it was to literally dunk you in the freezing sea.  To preserve your modesty, you hired a bathing machine, entered from the back.  Once inside, a horse, or strong man, pulled you out from the beach into the sea, whilst  you put on your bathing suit (thick and long enough to preserve your modesty) and took to the waters.

Tide Coming in Fast and a Jibbing Horse

It was many years before the British realised that the Continental hydrotherapy cure had a lot going for it.  And we started to understand the difference between swimming for pleasure, and hydrotherapy as a cure for medical problems.

What is hydrotherapy?

Versus Arthritis says

“Hydrotherapy is the use of water in the treatment of different conditions, including arthritis and related rheumatic complaints. Hydrotherapy differs from swimming because it involves special exercises that you do in a warm-water pool. The water temperature is usually 33–36ºC, which is warmer than a typical swimming pool.”
  • The warmth of the water allows your muscles to relax and eases the pain in your joints, helping you to exercise.
  • The water supports your weight, which helps to relieve pain and increase the range of movement of your joints.

Usually hydrotherapy treatment takes place in a specially-built hydro pool within a hospital’s physiotherapy department. The pool is smaller than a public swimming pool, because you are there to exercise, rather than swim up and down. Usually a physiotherapist or a physiotherapist’s assistant with specialist training will show you how to do exercises. The focus of the exercises can be adjusted to help your range of movement or strength, depending on your symptoms”.

Hydrotherapy tends to be different to aquarobics, which can be quite strenuous.  Hydrotherapy is generally more focused on slow, controlled movements and relaxation.  It is excellent for those with Osteoporosis, or any other disability where falling is a problem.  It’s partiularly good for those with polio, for exercise after a hip operation, and in fact any disease where mobility is compromised due to disabilities, pain, age, etc.

Is hydrotherapy similar to spa therapy?

Spa therapy is based on the theory that the mineral content of spa water has special health-giving properties. In many European countries, hydrotherapy often takes place in spa water. Although there’s some research that suggests the mineral content of the water may make a difference, other studies show that hydrotherapy has significant benefits regardless of the water used.  As long as it is the right temperature (33–36ºC).  N.B. in the UK public pools, Gym pools, etc. are uually kept at a temperature of 27º – 30º , which is too cold.

What else is hydrothrapy used for?

Just about any physical problem, especially for those with limited mobility, cerebral palsy, osteoporosis, etc.

The warm water encourages mobility.

Celebrities, Royals, etc. who are treated for hip problems, etc., at London’s King Edward VII hospital will find that during their operation their surgeon will have covered the incision with a waterproof plaster.  As soon as the physios ‘get’ at you, you will be wheeled down to their pool, and encouraged to exercise.

Quadraplegics really enjoy sessions in a hydro pool.  I’ve watched big smiles break out when the lift lowers them into the warm water, and they find they can actually move their limbs with help from support from water.  This video from an American hospital gives some idea of how it works.  Notice how the physio asks for weight bands, which she attaches to the patient’s legs, to help build muscle strength.  I reckon these would have been superfluous on dry land, and of no benefit at all.

Weird Fact – if you are a dog or a racehorse, and get injured, it’s easy to find a local animal hydrotherapy pool.  Vets swear by them, so I often think our animals can get better treatment than we do!