Hydrotherapy – the Heart of Naturopathic Medicine


One of the major underlying principles of Naturopathic medicine is that people take part in their own healing.  At-home hydrotherapy treatments are one of the best ways for people to help themselves and are widely under-appreciated.  So I would like to write about some of the best  home hydrotherapy treatments that I know.


Hydrotherapy is the practice of using hot wet and cold wet applications in various combinations and forms to stimulate the natural healing processes of the body.  In Naturopathic medicine, we call this innate healing intelligence the vital force.  The Chinese called it “Qi”, and the Indians, “Prana”. Naturopathic medicine started in the late 1800’s with a priest named Father Kneipp, who observed how animals would go to the river to bathe injured parts in the water.  He starting applying this observation to humans with great results and over time developed a gentle, yet powerful healing system.  To this day, hydrotherapy remains one of the core treatment systems of Naturopathic medicine.


What follows are two wonderful hydrotherapy treatments that I recommend to patients very frequently.  Those who do them are constantly amazed at how such a simple (and inexpensive!) procedure can produce such amazing results.  The first is called “Warming Socks”, and it illustrates the concepts of hydrotherapy very well. 


This treatment used to be called, “Cold Wet Socks”, but someone finally figured out that that was not a very appealing picture, so the name was changed to “Warming Socks”  Here are the instructions I give out:


The warming socks treatment is best if repeated for three nights in a row.


Sore throat or any inflammation or infection of the throat, neck pain, ear infections, headaches, migraines, nasal congestion, upper respiratory infections, coughs, bronchitis, and sinus infections.


1 pair thin white cotton socks

1 pair thick wool socks


Warm bath or warm foot bath


• Take a pair of cotton socks and soak them completely with ice cold water. Be sure to wring the socks out thoroughly so they do not drip.

• Warm your feet first. This is very important as the treatment will not be as effective and could be harmful if your feet are not warmed first. Warming can be accomplished by soaking your feet in very warm water for at least 5-10 minutes or taking a warm bath for 5~10 minutes.

• Dry off feet and body with a dry towel.

• Place cold damp socks on feet. Cover with thick dry wool socks. Go directly to bed. Avoid getting chilled.

• Keep the socks on overnight. You will find that the damp cotton socks will be dry in the morning.


Effects of the Wet Sock Treatment:

The body perceives the heat differential between the cool socks and the hot feet as an irritant.  It responds by pulling the congested fluids from the upper respiratory passages, down to the feet to warm up the socks.  Over the course of a couple of hours, the socks will dry out, and the nose and sinuses will decongest.


This movement of fluid also has the effect of stimulating the immune system, to better fight infection.  It works very well with sick children to get them to sleep quickly, and keeps them more comfortable throughout the night.  The same holds true for adults.


Another fantastic hydrotherapy treatment was given to us by the great Edgar Casey.  While he was not a Naturopath, per se, we have co-opted this treatment as our own.  This is called a “Castor Oil Pack” and is one of the most detoxifying and internally invigorating treatments I know. 


Over the course of a treatment, castor oil is absorbed through the skin, into the lymph system where it had a minor irritating effect.  The lymphatic system (think of it as the garbage disposal of the body), and the liver (the major organ of detoxification) are stimulated by the effect of the castor oil.  This treatment can be so effective in stimulating detoxification that some people report feeling flu-like symptoms after doing this for the first time.  However, this is seen as a good thing, because it is a sign that toxins are being moved out of the liver, and excreted. It is also very effective for constipation and to stimulate the bowels.  The instructions follow:



The castor oil pack has many applications and is used in many conditions including uterine fibroids, non-malignant ovarian cysts, headaches, migraines, constipation, intestinal disorders, gallbladder and liver conditions.


Do not use heat with uterine growths, bleeding, pregnancy, ulcers or while menstruating. Do not fall asleep while using the electric heating pad.


Flannel cloth (cotton or wool - 20-40 inches by 24-48 inches)

            Plastic wrap (Clear kitchen wrap or plastic bag without ink)

            Glass dish (Square 9 x 9 inch Pyrex or similar container)

            Bath towel

            Hot water bottle or heating pad

            Two safety pins

            Six ounces of castor oil


• Choose a container in which to store and heat your Castor oil pack.

• Pour oil onto flannel until it is well moistened.

• Heat flannel/oil in glass dish in oven or microwave to a comfortable temperature.

• Lie down placing flannel directly on skin over the treatment area.

• Place plastic wrap that is 1-2 inches larger than flannel on all sides over flannel to prevent staining of clothes or bedding.

• Wrap the towel around body over the flannel and plastic and pin.  If using heat, apply hot water bottle or heating pad (on medium setting) over the treatment area.

• Rest for 30 min to 4 hours. You may sleep, use visualization, or meditation at this time.

• You may replace the flannel pack in the glass container and store in refrigerator. This flannel and oil may be used for weeks.

• To cut the oil, wash skin or towel in a solution of 3 tablespoons baking soda/qt of water.


This can be repeated up to seven times per week.


So there you go – two great home treatments that cost very little, yet are very effective.  Please use them if the situation arises.  Feel free to experiment with them and to apply these treatment strategies to other situations.  Let me know how it goes!  Be well, everyone.

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