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Massage Today
August, 2003, Vol. 03, Issue 08

Kneipp Hydrotherapy, Part II

By Nancy Griffin

Editor's note: This is the second part of a two-part series on the life and work of Sebastian Kneipp. The information in this series is based on research from the Sebastian-Kneipp-Schule in Bad Wšrishofen, Germany.

Part one of this article appeared in the June issue (

Sebastian Kneipp, believed to be the "father" of modern hydrotherapy, is famous the world over. Known as the "Waterdoctor from Wšrishofen," Kneipp developed over 100 different hydrotherapy treatments using three forms of water: solid, liquid and vapor, with treatments that included washing/ablutions; wraps; packs; compresses; poultices; affusions; steam; and baths.

Washings: Washings are the simplest and mildest treatment. The body is covered with a film of water using a washcloth. Additives, such as herbs, are often added to the water to create a balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. When the body is covered with cold water, there is a brief vasoconstriction of the peripheral blood vessels, and a stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system. The rapid reaction that follows is the increase of heat production, or vasodilatation through activation of the parasympathetic nervous system.

Wraps: A Kneipp wrap envelops a body part with wet and dry cloths that are either hot or cold. Effects are achieved through temperature, length of application and additives. Increased circulation promotes the removal of metabolic wastes and increases the oxygen supply.

Affusions: Affusions precisely regulate the direction of the water stream on the body. A "flar" affusion uses a stream of water without pressure, flowing in a fan-shaped form to coat the body or body part. A high-pressure affusion (such as a Scotch Hose) delivers a strong mechanical stimulus. The treatment is used with cold, tempered or warm water and can be delivered to the knee; thigh; leg; back; face or full body.

Baths: Kneipp baths, whether partial or full, are usually combined with herbal additives. A brush bath is a combination of a full-body brushing and a warm bath, which intensifies the treatment the general warming of the body and through the effects of the hydrostatic pressure. Additives to the bath can be stimulating or calming.

Some of Kneipp's more esoteric treatments include:

Dew Walking - Walking barefoot on dew-moistened grass to promote circulation and strengthen the immune system.

Water Treading - "Stork"-walking in a body of water filled below the knee, such as large basin; bathtub; fountain; lake; or ocean to strengthen veins, induce sleep and stimulate metabolism.

Snow Walking - Walking barefoot in snow from a few seconds up to three minutes to stimulate the system and promote circulation.

Effects of Kneipp Hydrotherapy

The effects of Kneipp hydrotherapeutic treatments are vast, and have been documented through decades of scientific research at the Sebastian-Kneipp-Schule. Some of the effects include:

Local Reaction - Similar to reactions caused by cold compresses used for acute trauma or inflammation, or hot packs/hay sacks used for local muscular hypertension.

Segmental Response - Internal organs can be influenced by an automatic reflex from the skin, called the "cuti-visceral reflex."

Consensual Response - Parts of the body not treated directly can react in the same way as the part being treated. Automatic Response.

General Condition - Influence on the automatic nervous system; improves general state of well-being.

Immune System Response - Alternating treatments and strengthening exercises "toughen up" and train the body's immune system.

Psychological Response - Temperature and aroma stimuli have a direct influence on the central nervous system and can change the mental state.

Benefits of Kneipp hydrotherapy include: relaxation and general sense of well-being; muscle relaxation; increased excretion through the skin; stimulation of metabolism; stabilization of body warmth; regulation of blood pressure; activation of the immune system; and ameliorated circulation of the skin.

Education and Home Treatment

Lifestyle and health education are the most important part of Kneipp's doctrine. He believed in self-responsibility as a cornerstone of health. Many Kneipp hydrotherapy treatments can and should be repeated at home. Kneipp hydrotherapy treatments use ordinary water, which is transformed into "healing" water through the appropriate knowledge.

Click here for previous articles by Nancy Griffin.


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