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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Hot Springs Help Musculoskeletal Pain

Termas de Papallacta, Ecuador

Balneotherapy is the practice of bathing in mineral water from natural underground springs for therapeutic purposes. It may also involve the topical application of natural mineral-rich clays. Balneotherapy dates back to ancient times but now modern medicine is recognizing it as a valuable intervention for musculoskeletal pain.

A French study analyzed its efficacy in treating rheumatologic diseases like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, ankylosing spondylitis, and chronic low back pain. Researchers reviewed results from randomized controlled clinical trials in Israel, Turkey, Hungary, France, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, Austria, and the Netherlands. The trials involved more than 1700 people and measured pain, morning stiffness, tender points (in patients with fibromyalgia), and the use of pain medications.

Researchers found that balneotherapy was safe and effective in reducing musculoskeletal pain, although the duration of relief varied from two weeks to one year. Different results may be due to differences in the composition of cations and anions contained in the water, which vary by geographical location, or the treatment itself, as some baths were paired with other modalities such as physical therapy.

Balneotherapy is available in areas with natural underground hot springs. On a recent trip to Ecuador I enjoyed soaking in the springs at Termas de Papallacta, tucked high in the Andes mountains. Fortunately, you don't need to go to South America to find them. Hot springs are scattered across the United States and most common in areas of recent volcanic activity like Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico.

In upstate New York, treatments are available in Saratoga Springs at the Roosevelt Baths inside Saratoga Springs Spa State Park and at a limited number of spas around town. If you visit the park, bring a cup to taste the water from various underground springs, piped through spigots and fountains. Each one has a unique flavor due to its unique mineral composition. 

Saratoga Springs State Park, New York


Françon A. and Forestier R. 2009. Spa therapy in rheumatology. Indications based on the clinical guidelines of the French National Authority for health and the European League Against Rheumatism, and the results of 19 randomized clinical trials. Bulletin de l'Académie Nationale de Médecine 193(6):1345-56.

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