People suffering from work-related burnout showed significant and lasting improvements following three weeks of resort-based spa therapy, according to recent research.

The study, “Association of Spa Therapy with Improvement of Psychological Symptoms of Occupational Burnout: A Pilot Study,” involved 45 women and 20 men, ranging in age from 22 to 60 years, with a mean age of around 50 years.

These participants were approached on the day of their arrival at Bad Tatzmannsdorf, a spa resort in Burgenland, Austria. They were included in the study after reporting symptoms of either “mild burnout” or “full burnout syndrome.” Burnout was measured using the standardized German Hamburger Burnout Inventory, and it was defined by three factors: emotional exhaustion, performance dissatisfaction and social detachment.

Those with mild burnout had work-related emotional exhaustion greater than 75 percent of the population norm. Those with full burnout syndrome had work-related emotional exhaustion along with performance dissatisfaction and detachment greater than 75 percent of the population norm.

During the three-week intervention, subjects were living in a hotel at the spa resort. Each participant received a customized package consisting of three to four sessions per day, except Sundays. These sessions lasted between 20 and 40 minutes and consisted of hands-on massage, underwater jet massage, tub baths in naturally carbonated mineral water, hot mud packs, group exercise classes on mats or in water, and group relaxation classes based on progressive muscle relaxation.

Participants filled out questionnaires assessing their levels of burnout, along with four burnout-related complaints: general fatigue, distress, reduced motivation and quality of sleep. Surveys were filled out on the first day they arrived at the resort spa, on the last day of spa therapy, four weeks after leaving the resort spa and three months after spa therapy.

“All four burnout-related complaints … improved markedly during the stay at the spa resort,” state the study’s authors. “This improvement was still significant at four weeks and three months after spa therapy for all variables.

“Spa therapy may be a helpful measure for treating the symptoms of occupational burnout,” they concluded. ‘Three factors potentially contribute to this improvement: recovery due to a respite from work, an effect of the individual spa treatments and spontaneous improvement.”

Authors: Gerhard Blasche, Valentin Leibetseder and Wolfgang Marktl.

Sources: Department of Environmental Hygiene, Center for Public Health, Medical University of Vienna and Cluster of Rheumatology, Balneology, and Rehabilitation, Ludwig Boltzmann Society, Bad Tatzmannsdorf, Austria. Originally published in Forsch Komplementmed (2010) 17: 132-136.