For thousands of years, in cultures as diverse as the ancient Greeks, Russians and Japanese, hot baths have been used to reduce pain, encourage blood flow and circulation, and promote relaxation. For back pain sufferers, a hot tub can be one of the few sources of relief from crippling pain, discomfort and stiffness. But you may be wondering whether it would be worth spending thousands of dollars on a hot tub system for back pain relief.
Americans shell out more than $50 billion each year fighting back pain, according to the National Institutes of Health fact sheet on back pain. Back pain is also the most common cause of missed work days and disability claims. A bulging disk, sciatica, an acute injury or osteoporosis can all cause pain in the spinal region.
Doctors will prescribe physical therapy, medications, ultrasound and other treatments when back pain strikes. But two of the most vital treatments are ice and heat. Ice, according to the NIH, should be used for 48 to 72 hours, then patients can move to applying heat.
Although heating pads and hot packs are effective, a hot tub or bath is an effective way to apply heat to a large area of the body. Heat works by relaxing surrounding muscles, which can reduce muscle spasms; it also dilates the blood vessels, increasing blood flow and promoting healing in the injured tissue. As the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases states, heat also "alters the sensation of pain"—in other words, it feels good and provides much-needed relief for acute or chronic back pain.
Hot tub manufacturers are certainly marketing their products directly to back pain sufferers: The Olympic Hot Tub Co., for example, cites studies published in the British Journal of Rheumatology that showed that patients treated with spa therapy showed more improvement, from mobility to reduced pain, than a group of patients treated with medication only.
The company even encourages customers to get a prescription from their doctors for a hot tub; some states will eliminate sales tax on a hot tub with a doctor's note.
If you're buying a tub for hydrotherapy, the Hot Tub Guide recommends you look closely at the following features: jet type, seating, pumps and water pressure, and heating controls.
Look for jets that can be positioned directly onto the back, particularly the area that is in pain. You can also choose from a wide variety of jet types, from massage jets that move back and forth to whirlpool jets that concentrate water pressure in a focused area. With moldable plastic shells, jet position is highly customizable in today's tubs.
Modern fiberglass shells have also moved far beyond the old-style bench seating. Hot tub buyers looking for back pain relief can look for lounge-style seats, with full immersion and jets directly positioned on the lower back area.
Hot tub hydrotherapy is one way to not only treat and relieve lower back pain and other injuries, but also to increase circulation, reduce stress and promote relaxation. However, hot tub users should keep in mind a few simple precautions: Do not use a hot tub for any medical condition without reviewing it with a physician. Do not use a hot tub if you are taking drugs that could make you sleepy or drowsy. Finally, do not exceed the time limit or temperature recommended by the manufacturer. By following those few simple rules, your back pain relief could be just a soak away.