When it comes to mental ill-health, many people think it only affects what is going on in the person’s brain. However, these conditions are complex and multi-faceted, often having physical implications too. For those experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, trauma survivors will often experience problems such as chronic pain and joint/muscle pain too. This is often caused by continual anxiety, constant muscle tightening, and the physical result of being hypervigilant.
One holistic way of dealing with these symptoms, which we often talk about at PTSD UK, is hydrotherapy. It can be hugely beneficial to those suffering from PTSD, both for the support it can offer physically, but also because of the mental relaxation benefits. It has dual purposes.
For many years, water has been seen to have healing properties – not only does it help in cleaning and healing physical wounds, but it can also have a hugely positive effect on mental health too. With hydrotherapy, water is used to help relieve any discomfort and promote a better sense of well-being. A hydrotherapy pool is heated to around 35 degrees Celsius. This elevated temperature, plus the hydrostatic pressure, helps with increasing circulation and flexibility.
It is also warm enough that the patient can properly relax, rather than tense up when cold. This can help with pain relief. It can additionally ease muscle spasms and strengthen any weak muscles. While in the pool, hydrotherapy can be as simple as floating in the water. It could also involve intense exercises, sometimes including squats or underwater treadmills in high-tech places. It all depends on the individual and what they specifically need help with. Because it takes place in water, you are able to do more moves and exercises than you’d be able to do on land.
Alternatively, hydrotherapy can involve a range of different therapeutic treatments, which all explore how the body reacts to a variety of stimuli. This could involve changing the water temperature that you’re exposed to from hot to cold and back again. By going into cold water, your surface blood vessels will tighten up and send blood to your core as a means of preserving heat. This will give your brain and vital organs a rush of fresh blood, oxygen and detoxification. Then, by moving back to warm water, these blood vessels will relax, which will bring the blood back to the surface, helping to clean out the core.
There’s plenty of medical research to support the benefits of hydrotherapy for PTSD sufferers. Toda et al found in 2006 that water bathing helps to decrease stress hormones such as cortisol. Marzsziti et al observed in 2007 that water bathing can help improve serotonin levels – a neurotransmitter in the brain responsible for helping you to feel good. Additionally, Yamamoto et al discovered in 2008 that footbaths can help to decrease the stress response and bring down the feeling of fight or flight. In 2005, Balogh also noticed that patients who bathed in mineral water experienced improvements in their back pain for at least three months from the end of treatment.
If you aren’t able to access a hydrotherapy centre, you can always try it at home by having a warm bath. You can add bath oils, aromatherapy scents, mineral bath salts and may find it relaxing to have candles too. If hypervigilance is a problem for you, perhaps ask a friend or loved one to stay in a room close by, if this helps you.
It’s important to note however, that while choosing your PTSD recovery path you need to address both the symptoms and the underlying condition. NICE guidance from 2005 and 2011 recommends the use of trauma focused psychological treatments for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in adults, specifically the use of Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) and trauma focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
Please remember, these aren’t meant to be medical recommendations, but they’re tactics that have worked for others and might work for you, too. Be sure to work with a professional to find the best methods for you.
IMAGE: Water by Solaris Moon