Everyone agrees that balneotherapy involves water. What they don't always agree on is the source and exact chemical makeup of the water. Purists use a much narrower definition of balneotherapy that has three key elements:
- Temperature: The temperature of water for balneotherapy must be at least 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius), although it is often much warmer, at 93 degrees Fahrenheit (34 degrees Celsius).
- Mineral content: Balneotherapy requires water containing dissolved materials at a concentration of at least 1 gram per liter. The dissolved substances most often include salts, sulfur compounds or gases.
- Natural occurrence: Natural springs are the preferred source for those seeking balneotherapy. A spring forms when an aquifer fills to the point that the water overflows onto the land surface. They range in size from small seeps to huge pools, and they vary greatly in their mineral content. Examples of natural springs include Great Pagosa Hot Springs in Colorado, Warm Mineral Springs in Florida and the Kangal Hot Springs in Turkey.
Broader definitions also exist. For example, Dorland's Medical Dictionary defines balneotherapy as the use of baths in the treatment of disease. A bath, in this case, refers to immersion in any kind of water at any temperature. Sometimes, immersion isn't even required. The application of a hot or cold wrap can be considered a therapeutic use of water, too. In this broader sense, balneotherapy is also known as hydrotherapy and includes:
- Full-body baths (in a tub or natural body of water)
- Arm and foot baths
- Sitz baths (immersion of the hips)
- Steam baths or saunas
- Motion-based therapies involving hot tubs or whirlpool baths
- Saline baths
- Wet compresses (hot or cold)
Balneotherapy has been popular for centuries, both as a way to promote relaxation and to treat certain ailments. Up next, we'll examine the history of water-based therapy, from the Roman bath to the modern spa.