Water, especially warm water, is naturally associated with relaxation and pain relief—which you already know if you have ever drawn yourself a hot bath to soothe aching muscles. Massage therapist David Wilkinson was doing just that one day after spending several hours hauling firewood. As he soaked his sore, tense body, he also started gently massaging his muscles.
The ease with which his muscles responded to his massage while underwater led him to an idea. Could a bathtub be mounted on a massage table to allow recipients the therapeutic value of hydrotherapy in addition to a massage therapist’s hands-on care?
Over the next several months, Wilkinson developed and tested a prototype of his invention, the Water Immersion Massage Table. His first one was self-contained and weighed 300 pounds, but he developed a model that weighs less than 40 pounds and is designed to be placed on a regular massage table (one with a capacity of 550 pounds or more).
Who Needs Hydrotherapy?
Hydrotherapy offers benefits for most clients, regardless of whether they seek pain relief or simple stress relief; anyone looking for a relaxing massage may enjoy immersion massage. It is especially beneficial for athletes prepping for big competitions, people with chronic aches and pains, those with limited range of motion, and those who need deep tissue work done but can’t handle the intensity of regular deep tissue massage.
Hydrotherapy Adds Value
Immersing the client’s body in warm water while performing massage can be a good way to super-charge your bodywork and pack more value into a session. For one, hydrotherapy helps “melt” fascia, making the body more pliable without much effort on the massage therapist’s part. (That also means less wear and tear on your body, too.)
“In regular massage, you do all kinds of things to warm up the tissue and try to get that stress out so that you can actually penetrate deeper into the muscle,” said Wilkinson. “The warm water takes care of that. Just being in that environment melts that fascia so you can go right to the issues immediately. So, I feel like in an hour, you get more out of that session, because you didn’t have to spend the first 15-20 minutes just preparing the body.”
The natural buoyancy of the body in water takes weight off the client’s pain points and also makes it simple for the massage practitioner to access all areas of the body and easily reposition it as necessary during the hydrotherapy session. Since the client will remain clothed, draping isn’t necessary, either. For client comfort, just four towels are needed after each session for drying off.
“In the tub, you’re able to put them in so many strategic positions to help you release all the muscles you need to release,” Wilkinson says.
The benefits of non-electric, waterproof hand tools, such as rollers, cups, a gua sha tool, sticks and balls, can also be amplified by using them during hydrotherapy.
Hydrotherapy Adds Revenue
Because hydrotherapy acts as an enhancement to regular massage therapy, you can charge more per session; Wilkinson charges $20 more for adding his method of hydrotherapy. You can also develop hydrotherapy into a signature service by customizing various mix-in elements, such as bath salts or essential oils blended into the water. Wilkinson suggests healthy minerals like magnesium, or energizing essential oils such as peppermint or orange.
In a typical session, the client, wearing a swimsuit or other clothing designed to get wet, enters the room and climbs into the tub; you’ll need a small ladder or stepstool to make access easy for the client. The tub is already filled with warm water—102 to 104 degrees is ideal. An inclined slope at one end, covered with a rolled towel for a pillow, comfortably elevates the head, keeping it above water, while an adjustable toe board offers the client stability while immersed.
“Then I spend the first probably 40, 45 minutes just massaging whatever the focus is, whether it’s the whole body or a focused area of the body,” says Wilkinson. The client then changes into dry clothes and moves to a regular table for the remainder of the session. “The fascia’s already totally warmed up; the joint mobility is really great at this time,” he added.
Once the massaging is complete, Wilkinson caps off the session with a full-body stretch. Through this treatment sequence, he says, most clients achieve a new degree of flexibility and joint mobility, more than they would get from traditional, non-immersion massage.
On top of the prep work required and the actual hydrotherapy session, you will also need to figure in how much time it will take you to clean and prepare your hydrotherapy room for the next client. The tub must be drained, cleaned and refilled in addition to the other protocols you already have in place for dealing with soiled linens and sanitizing surfaces, tools and the air.
Give Hydrotherapy a Try
If you’re looking for a way to level up on your treatment offerings, providing this type of hydrotherapy can be a great option. You will enjoy it—and so will your clients.
About the Company
MassageWORKS is a Rehabilitative Bodywork Center in Albany, Oregon, that specializes in therapy, education and products that enhance the rehabilitative bodywork world. The owner, Dave Wilkinson is a trained rehabilitative massage therapist and medical massage practitioner who has spent most of his life working to educate, train and heal people from all walks of life. He is a coach and a former principal, athletic director and teacher; and is the inventor of the Water Immersion Massage Table.