5 Ways Balneotherapy Benefits in Arthritis

Arthritis or the inflammation of joints is a musculoskeletal condition in which the joints of the body develop pain and stiffness.

It can affect any joint and may occur in one or more joints of the body. Arthritis is of numerous types, the most common being osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.

However, inflammation and pain are common in all kinds of arthritis.

The symptoms depend on the type and cause of arthritis. It usually presents with pain, tenderness, swelling, warmth, redness, stiffness, soreness with a decreased movement of the affected area.

Some people may also experience loss of appetite, fever, tiredness or anaemia. If left untreated, the joints may get deformed.

Arthritis can affect people of any age and gender. However, older people, women, overweight individuals, people with joint injuries and persons having a family history of the disease are at a greater risk of developing arthritis.

Treatments are aimed at reducing the pain and inflammation. Patients are given analgesics (pain relievers) and Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs).

They may also be given drugs to suppress the immune system if arthritis is caused by the auto-immune reaction.

These medications, though effective for some time, pose risks of adverse health effects. Therefore, the use of natural treatments is increasing and is recommended to avoid harmful effects of drugs.

What is Balneotherapy?

Balneotherapy is the therapy of treating illness by bathing in mineral-rich or thermal waters and using mud packs (medicinal clays). It comes from the Latin word balneum, meaning ‘bath.’

It is done at places with thermal baths and spa. It is also done in natural spots like hot springs and seawaters that are rich in certain minerals like sulfur, magnesium, sodium, iodine, calcium, selenium, radium and silica.

These minerals are absorbed by the skin and provide health benefits. This therapy includes mineral baths, sulfur baths, and radon-carbon-dioxide baths. Sometimes, herbs and essential oils are also added to the waters to treat a particular ailment.

This method of treatment has been used in ancient traditional medicines, and the research conducted recently provides scientific evidence of its numerous advantages.

Balneotherapy at the Dead Sea is quite popular.

Studies carried out at the Dead Sea showed positive results for people with psoriatic arthritis, osteoarthritis and other neurological and musculoskeletal disorders, with effects lasting up to three months. [6] [7]

The temperature and the mineral content of the water are crucial aspects of Balneotherapy. This therapeutic bath utilizes the healing potential of water, minerals, salts and other organic compounds.

It is known to provide relief from pain and stiffness, increase blood circulation, relax muscles and increase cellular fluids. The body or the affected area is made to stay in the water for a particular duration of time, which provides a calming and soothing effect.

In a survey published in The Journal of The Japanese Society of Balneology, Climatology and Physical Medicine, patients with rheumatoid arthritis experienced the benefits of Balneotherapy, and it was recommended by 91% patients and 88% rheumatologists to other patients.

The doctors recognized the advantages of this treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. [8]

Many studies depict the positive effects of Balneotherapy in treating different types of arthritis like osteoarthritis (including hip, hand and knee osteoarthritis) and rheumatoid arthritis. [9] [10] [11]

The International Journal of Biometeorology reports a study conducted on patients with arthritis of the hip, where Balneotherapy treatment and exercise helped in relieving pain and soreness and improving the functioning of the joints. [12]

Balneotherapy Benefits for Arthritis

Balneotherapy Benefits in Arthritis in several ways. Balneotherapy relieves inflammation and oxidative stress in the body. It also helps swelling and tenderness of joints. Balneotherapy is known to help in naturally reducing pain associated with arthritis. It helps in relaxing muscles and improves the functioning of joints. Balneotherapy is known to be effective in case of septic arthritis and Psoriatic arthritis.

5 Ways Balneotherapy Benefits in Arthritis

Balneotherapy’s benefits for arthritis are discussed in detail below:

1. Relieves inflammation and oxidative stress

In all types of arthritis, inflammation of one or the other joint is present. The inflammation is the reaction of the immune system to fight off infection or injury.

Inflammation can be caused by several factors. Excessive use of a joint may cause wear and tear of the tissues in the joint.

Surgery, injury or infection may damage the cells and cause the body to release immune cells like cytokines and certain inflammatory mediators.

The inflammation thus leads to redness, swelling, and soreness which cause difficulty in moving and using the joint.

These processes also cause the production of reactive oxygen species, which tend to neutralize themselves by attacking body cells and tissues.

These free radicals lead to the development of oxidative stress, which is the cause of cell damage and death.

Relieving the inflammation is one of the preliminary treatments for Arthritis.

Balneotherapy has proved through various studies, that it can ease the body from swelling and inflammation.

In cases of Rheumatoid arthritis, Balneotherapy has managed to relieve the tenderness and swelling of joints. [13]

Sulfur is an essential mineral used in Balneotherapy. A study investigating the antioxidative effects of sulfur baths showed that sulfur bath therapy has a potential of reducing oxidative stress. [14]

Sulfur baths were also able to reduce the levels of plasma homocysteine (tHcy), an amino acid, which further reduces the risk of cell injury and inflammation. [15]

In animal studies, Sulfur baths were found to reduce edema and inflammation caused by arthritis. [16]

Another mineral used in Balneotherapy is Radon. Radon can be added to the baths and inhaled. This inhaled mineral has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects and helps in relieving pain arising from inflammation. [17]

Balneotherapy also includes the use of mud packs.

Mud packs protect the joint tissues by reducing inflammation. They decrease the levels of prostaglandins and leukotriene, substances which mediate inflammation. [18]

Mud packs were also found to be helpful in treating knee osteoarthritis by reducing the levels of markers of inflammation and tissue damage. [19]

What does this mean?

Salts, mud packs and thermal baths used in Balneotherapy can reduce and treat inflammation, swelling, tenderness and oxidative stress in arthritic patients.

2.  Helps Relieve Arthritis Pain

Pain in Arthritis patients causes significant discomfort and limits one’s actions and joint movements. Severe pain affects the day-to-day activities and affects the quality of life.

While analgesics are used to combat the pain, their effects are short-termed and come with side effects.

Balneotherapy offers a safe and natural way to relieve pain for a longer duration of time in arthritis patients.

A study involving 52 elder adults revealed that Balneotherapy with water containing sulfate, sodium and magnesium ions provided pain relief, apart from improving mood and sleep quality. [20]

It is also recommended as a supporting treatment with anti-rheumatic drugs, to relieve pain in cases of rheumatoid arthritis. [21]

Sulfur used as a bath salt in Balneotherapy gets absorbed through the skin and has analgesic effects. [22]

It inhibits transmission of pain signals by slowing down the nerve impulses. [23]

Thermal baths have proven to increase the levels of β-endorphin. [24]

The hormone β-endorphin has analgesic properties. It reduces the sensation of pain and helps in pain management.[25]

Balneotherapy can also prove beneficial in treating arthritis of the spine that causes pain in the back, as it helps in alleviating lower back pains. [26]

What does this mean?

Balneotherapeutic treatments provide pain relief for an extended period in a safe and natural way.

3. Relaxes muscles and improves joint functioning

Arthritis causes reduced muscular movement and reduced functionality of the joints.

Studies on about 496 patients show that Balneotherapy is beneficial in improving joint functioning capacity, relieving stiffness and strengthening the muscles.

This helps in carrying out the daily activities with ease. These results lasted from 3 months to 6 months. [27] [28]

It was also found to improve the grip strength. [29]

Thermal water improves blood flow and circulation. This leads to increased nourishment to tissues and muscles of the joint, which leads to their relaxation and enhances their functioning.

What does this mean?

The joint functioning can be improved, and stiffness of muscles can be reduced Balneotherapy.

4. Prevents Microbial Infections

Microbial infection is also one of the causes of arthritis which leads to infection of the joints. This is also called septic arthritis or infectious arthritis. It can result from wound infection following surgery or injury.

Also, the microbial infection can also elevate the symptoms of arthritis. [30]

Various salts used in Balneotherapy have anti-microbial effects. One such salt, sulfur, which is also absorbed by the skin, is known to possess anti-microbial propensities and shows microbicidal action against various strains of bacteria and fungi. [31] [32] [33]

This can help in containing or reducing the infection in the joints that are exposed to bath salts.

Additionally, Balneotherapy often uses hot waters which can help in killing or deactivating the microbes and limit the infection.

What does this mean?

Balneotherapy provides adverse conditions for microbial activity and can prevent or reduce arthritic infections.

5. Helps in Psoriatic Arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis develops when a person has arthritis in addition to psoriasis. Pain and inflammation are common to both the diseases and individuals with psoriatic arthritis need treatment to alleviate them.

In a study, the water from the springs, used for Balneotherapy, was known to suppress various inflammatory mediators including cytokines which helped in relieving the symptoms of the disease. [34]

What does this mean?

Balneotherapy is helpful in treating inflammation in various diseases including Psoriatic arthritis.

Is Balneotherapy Effective?

The effectiveness of Balneotherapy in treating pain and inflammation in arthritis is proved by various studies and clinical trials.

However, many studies are inconclusive in nature, and scientists have conflicting opinions regarding the effectiveness of the therapy.

The studies, in spite of showing positive results in improving the symptoms, however, are unable to determine or explain the mechanism of action of this therapy in detail.

More research and clinical trials on a larger scale need to be conducted to confirm its efficacy in various types of arthritis.

Nonetheless, Balneotherapy can be effectively used as an alternative treatment for arthritis for relieving pain and easing the discomfort caused by stiffness of muscles.

It can relax and soothe the entire body along with reducing the symptoms to some extent.

Precautions to be taken with Balneotherapy

Before attempting Balneotherapy, individuals, especially children, pregnant women and people with other health conditions or diseases, should consult with the physician, to determine if it is suitable for use by them.

The salts and ions in bathing water should be in optimum concentrations, and the water should be bacteria-free. Excessive salts can cause toxicity.

Some salts like radon, if present in very high levels, on inhalation, can cause adverse health effects. [35]

The temperature of the water should be comfortable and neither too high nor too low. Care should be taken in taking thermal baths, as hot water can cause skin burns, especially in sensitive skin types.

Balneotherapy is not recommended for persons having a high fever, infectious diseases, circulatory disorders, hypertension, anaemia and who are under the influence of alcohol.

The salts and minerals used in Balneotherapy can have an irritant effect on some people and may even cause allergies.

Conclusion

Balneotherapy is an effective alternative therapy which shows positive results in people having different types of arthritis.

Bathing in water containing minerals and salts can have therapeutic advantages and can help in reducing many symptoms of this disease.

It can reduce the swelling, inflammation, soreness, and pain in the affected joints and relax and soothe the muscles. It can also prevent and limit infection of the joints.

All these help in improving the functionality and movement of the joints and can improve the quality of life of people with arthritis.