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  • Dr Thor Conner

Constitutional Hydrotherapy—A Unique and Revitalizing Naturopathic Treatment

As winter is upon us, we’d like to share one of our favorite naturopathic treatments to improve your winter wellness. This treatment helps set an excellent foundation for health through the holidays, winter, and beyond!

Since constitutional hydrotherapy is a unique technique, you have probably not heard of it. It was developed by Dr. O.G. Carroll, a naturopathic and chiropractic physician who practiced in Spokane, Washington from the 1930’s to 1970’s. Naturopathic doctors are the primary practitioners who are trained to use constitutionals, and in many ways this is the signature hydrotherapy treatment of our profession, since it works so well with our philosophy and the conditions we treat best.

A constitutional hydrotherapy treatment is a series of hot and cool compresses, combined with mild muscle stimulation. The treatment is very effective for both acute and chronic conditions, and time-efficient, as the synergy between the two parts allows us to complete a full treatment in 45 minutes. To achieve similar effects with just muscle stim or hot/cold water, the full treatment time would need to be at least an hour. The procedure is most effective with repeated sessions and feels great!

Effects of the constitutional hydrotherapy treatment

  • Improves internal organ function to improve eliminations: GI, liver, and kidney function are enhanced. The treatment also improves your ability to eliminate through the skin/lymph, lungs, and mind—all areas that also “detox” but are often overlooked.

  • Boosts the immune system. The mild positive stress of the treatment boosts your baseline immune function, leaving you less susceptible to passing infections.

  • Increases blood flow and temperature regulation. The alternating hot/cool compresses as well as the muscle stimulation increase blood flow to the body. Since pain often occurs in areas of low blood flow, this may reduce body pains. It is a safe way to improve blood flow with chronic conditions like many cardiac diseases. The alternating temperature also typically improves your own ability to tolerate hot or cold, and slows down abnormal sweating.

  • Enhance your vitality. Overall, the treatment has a balancing effect and is very relaxing. With repeated treatments, the meditative-like quality of the treatments can help you handle negative stresses with more ease and perspective.

Timing of Constitutional Hydrotherapy

As the name implies, this treatment is often used to promote overall wellness and whole person health—your constitution. One of the elegant aspects of this techniques is the ability to help whether you have a chronic or acute condition. Barring emergencies of course, we can perform the treatment even if you have a current issue like a fever or headache; in fact in most cases, it will not only reduce or eliminate what’s going on, but will improve your recovery afterwards. This is why Constitutionals are so adaptable, and can be used for conditions ranging from ear infections to IBS, detox to stress management, fibromyalgia to infertility, and everything in between.

Like many treatments that improve overall health, a series of treatments is most effective; although one treatment will likely be relaxing and help you that day, a short series will help for longer and impact more aspects of your health. Acute conditions, we usually recommend 2-3 a week for 1-4 weeks. For chronic conditions, 1-2 a week for a month or more is typical.

What is treatment like—in general?

As mentioned, the treatment takes 45 minutes to complete. Most naturopathic doctors schedule one hour to allow a quick check-in, exam, and time to change. Ideally, make sure you are well hydrated, but refrain from eating a larger meal for at least 2 hours before treatment. We suggest using the restroom right before treatment. Then your vital signs will be taken and you will be left to change.

The treatment starts with hot towels, followed by a quick hot to cold switch and a warming towel—that means it starts cool and your body warms it back up. This is applied to your chest and abdomen while you lie on your back. During the warming phase, mild muscle stim is applied to your upper back. After the warmed towel is removed, a fresh towel is placed to keep your chest dry, while muscle stimulation to the lower back and abdomen is used. After that phase, you turn over onto your stomach. The hot, hot-cold switch, and warming towel are repeated on you back. The treatment concludes with a quick friction massage. After you redress, your vital signs will be taken again while we check your response to treatment.

Most people feel calm but alert after treatment, similar to how you may feel after a sauna or massage. If you feel sleepy or less energized, that’s okay, too. You might just need more time. After treatment, you may sit with a water or tea in our relaxation room for as long as you’d like. We suggest giving yourself at least a few minutes before you move on to the rest of your day. Shortly after treatment, many people find they are hungry or thirsty, so listen to your body and follow those cues.

What is treatment like—in our office?

The treatment is traditionally completed unclothed from the waist up; however, we will always maintain your modesty and you may leave on a drape, bra, or sports bra, Just know that the treatment may be less effective that way, as that is not the original method. During the entire treatment, you will be kept warm with a thick wool blanket and additional layers as needed. During treatment, you can relax with music, guided meditations, nature sounds, or silence. We provide soundscapes, dim lighting, sleep masks, bolsters, and minimize interruptions to provide a more comfortable and restorative experience.

If you experience any side effects, most of the time we can adjust future treatments to reduce the potential for those, so please let us know. True adverse reactions are rare, but please notify us if you experience any adverse symptoms after treatment, or you just find it’s not for you—we are happy to help you find other options.

In our practice, Dr. Kristina offers constitutional hydrotherapy for both female and male patients on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Dr. Thor Conner offers constitutional hydrotherapy for male patients daily from Monday through Saturday. All hours are by appointment.

About Our Training in Constitutional Hydrotherapy

Our “lineage” with the treatment is fairly short. Dr. Kristina Conner trained at Bastyr University, where she learned the practice of hydrotherapy from her professors. Since she graduated, Dr. Kristina has continued to carry on the tradition of hydrotherapy through her residency, teaching, and private practice. She developed the course in Hydrotherapy at National University of Health Sciences and has taught the course since the start of the naturopathic medicine program there, training hundreds of new naturopathic doctors in Constitutional Hydrotherapy and other hydrotherapy techniques. One of those naturopathic doctors is Dr. Thor Conner! Dr. Kristina has also written articles on hydrotherapy for Naturopathic Doctor News and Review, as well as the chapter on hydrotherapy for Principles and Practice of Naturopathic Medicine, 2nd edition.

Constitutional hydrotherapy is an extremely safe treatment overall, even for kids, those who are acutely ill, and those recovering from an illness! Our experience with this seemingly simple technique is that it can profoundly improve health in many cases, even with multiple, complex conditions. We invite you to try it out!