The aims of balneotherapy (treatment of disease by bathing) are to soothe the pain, improve joint motion, and as a consequence, relieve people’s suffering and make them feel well.

Although most studies report positive outcomes, the trials are so poorly designed that “positive findings” should be viewed with caution, according to the Cochrane Collaboration, which included studies up to 2002.

What’s happened since?

Not much. I found three articles this year.

The consensus seems to be that a day at the spa might make you feel better in the near term. Better studies are needed, and the long-term effects (if any) are not known.

In June, a literature review concluded, “Further research is needed with sound experimental design, and with subjects not accustomed to sauna, before sauna bathing can routinely be used as a non-pharmacological treatment.”

A month later, spa water was superior to tap water. “Both … modalities were … effective in the management of the clinical symptoms and quality of life in knee osteoarthritis patients.” However, “pain and tenderness improved statistically better with balneotherapy [spa water].”

Most recently, “Balneotherapy has a supplementary effect on improvement in … ankylosing spondylitis (AS).” However, “we suggest that further research is needed to assess the role of balneotherapy applied for longer durations in AS patients.”

Illustration: WinHealth Online

9/22/06 18:52 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.