This review of balneotherapy comes from the Alfa Institute of Biomedical Sciences (AIBS), in Athens, Greece.

Balneotherapy (from Latin: balneum, “bath”) is the treatment of disease by bathing. It may involve hot or cold water, massage through moving water, relaxation, or stimulation.

Now, the details.

  • 29 studies of 1720 patients were evaluated.
  • 22 studies in rheumatological diseases
    • 8 osteoarthritis
    • 6 fibromyalgia
    • 4 ankylosing spondylitis
    • 4 rheumatoid arthritis
  • 3 studies of chronic low back pain
  • 3 studies focused on psoriasis
  • 1 study on Parkinson’s disease

And, the results.

  • Balneotherapy was associated with significantly greater pain improvement in rheumatological diseases and chronic low back pain vs the control group (17 of 25 studies).
  • There was improvement with balneotherapy in the remaining studies, but the response was not significantly better than in the control groups.
  • This beneficial effect lasted 10 days to 1 year — most often, 3 months.

The bottom line?
The authors concluded the available studies suggest that balneotherapy is effective treatment for several rheumatological disease. However, “existing research is not sufficiently strong to draw firm conclusions.”

A 2007 Cochrane review of balneotherapy to treat rheumatological diseases reported:

  • Radon-carbon dioxin baths compared with carbon dioxin baths may not lead to a short-term difference in pain, only possibly at 6 months.
  • Tap water baths may not lead to any difference in pain compared to land exercises or relaxation.
  • Mineral baths may lead to a significant difference in pain at 8 weeks compared with taking cyclosporine (Sandimmune), but might also lead to side effects.
    • Cyclosporine is a potent immunosuppressive agent.
  • Sulfur baths or Dead Sea baths may not lead to any overall benefit compared to no treatment.
  • Insufficient data support mineral baths vs  cyclosporine.

Overall, the Cochrane review concluded there were “not enough data” to tell whether physical disability would improve with various forms of balneotherapy.”

7/29/09 21:40 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.