As people grew wiser and more investigative of their surroundings, it was not long before one Tokyo doctor began to associate daily bathing in the hot springs with good health, and initiated a study of mineral water benefits for health. This soon gave rise to the science of balneology, or balneotherapy as the study of therapeutic bathing and usage of mineral water, gases, and mud for both health preservation and disease treatment.

Soaking in mineral water is just one part of the wide range of balneological procedures. A complex therapy may include drinking mineral water and inhalation of the mineral water vapor, mud packing, steam bathing, massage, hydrotherapy, and so on.

Balneology in Europe and Asia

In modern-day countries of Europe and Asia such as Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, and many others, balneotherapy is recommended as part of preventative and allopathic medicine. Specific protocols have been developed to treat a wide range of health problems by all types of mineral water with a wide range of mineral content to receive maximum benefits and avoid health complications.

Courses of balneotherapy are offered to doctors and nurses by medical schools. Trained physicians are able to evaluate the health conditions of each patient to prescribe safe and effective balneological treatments.

According to the European Spas Association, there are about 10,000 spa facilities and health resorts in Europe which have a strong medical background. All of those facilities are a part of the public health system and must comply with its strict rules and regulations.

In some European countries, balneological treatments in a spa are covered by health insurance if prescribed by a doctor. Typically, a course of spa treatments in Europe and Japan last from 10 to 21 days and include medical consultations, balneological procedures under the supervision of trained staff, a healthy diet based on natural foods.

People in other parts of the world mostly dip in hot mineral waters for recreation and relaxation purposes rather than for disease curing or disease prevention.

Balneology in North America

While healing bathing in geothermally heated water in many countries of Europe and Japan have long traditions which have been integrated into the health care system, Great Britain, the United States, and Canada have been gone through spiral cycles of popularity and decline of health resorts and geothermal water as a natural healing remedy.

During the 18 and 19th centuries, hundreds of mineral spa resorts, much like in Europe, were established in North America. The first balneological research institute in the United States was developed at Saratoga Spa in 1933. Scientific mineral analysis and classifications of several hundred mineral springs of the United States were done.

However, by the middle of the 20th century, the public lost interest in the hot springs bathing for purposes of illness prevention and disease treatment. The reason for that was and still is that traditional scientific medicine doesn't recognize the curative potential of mineral water. Besides, modern medications and procedures are capable of efficiently and quickly curing many chronic and acute diseases.

Many historic resorts of North America had declined in the last century, some of them had closed down or were abandoned.

Nowadays, the interest in hot springs bathing and spa services in the United States started to grow again. People who practice a healthy lifestyle, active and natural living, look for soaking opportunities since the thermal water is associated with natural diseases prevention and life prolongation. Many others prefer to go to spas or wellness centers for indulging in a massage, facial treatments, body wraps, aromatherapy, yoga, and other pampering retreats that are offered by hot springs facilities.

Though mineral water of many geothermal springs of North America has great quality, medical claims can't be made due to balneotherapy is not a part of Canada and the United States' health systems.


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1. European Spas Association. Spa Medicine. 2005
2. Nathaniel Altman. Healing Springs: The Ultimate Guide to Taking the Waters. 2000

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