A spa day, on doctor's orders…

18 May 2018. Published by Emma Kislingbury, Senior Associate

We are increasingly focussed on living more sustainably with what we eat and the products that we use. Applying a similar mind-set to certain medicines, might we see a resurgence of traditional natural therapeutic treatments like spas?

The many health benefits of water are long proclaimed – the relaxing and stress-reducing effect of a day at the spa for example, or your increased energy levels and improved performance in brain function from having 6-8 glasses of fluid a day (and yes, according to the NHS, that cup of coffee does count).


The approach over the water


In some countries, the health benefits of water are recognised to an even greater extent, with qualified health professionals not only advocating, but also prescribing, courses of water-based treatments for a range of conditions, including muscular complaints and circulatory disorders.


'Medical spas' are big business abroad, especially in those towns and villages which benefit from the presence of natural thermal springs.


Troubled waters in the United Kingdom


There was a time when the health benefits of mineral-rich thermal waters were more highly valued in this country. Think about the natural thermal springs in Bath, first discovered around 863BC by Prince Bladud, who claimed to have been cured of his leprosy after bathing in the warm waters. And Buxton, a place of medieval pilgrimage, which, by the end of the 19th century, was a significant centre for hydrotherapy and other water-related treatments on account of its thermal springs.


From the early 17th century until around 1948, a vast number of spas sprung up in England, and 'taking the waters' became a common trend for treating ailments including scurvy, epilepsy and various skin complaints.


But nowadays, in the UK at least, we tend to see a 'spa day' as a thing of relaxation and luxury, an indulgent treat, different to the 'medical spa' concept which you might find abroad.


A number of factors have contributed to this. The advent of the NHS in England in 1948 led to a declining association between spas and their medicinal benefits. The nature of therapeutic treatments offered to patients and the way that they were perceived by those delivering them changed; spa medicine fell out of favour as patients gained greater access to cutting edge treatments, and the promise of new drug-based solutions prevailed. Spa treatments had been funded by the State, via NHS contracts, but the funding was removed over time and, as a result, many spa towns in the UK fell into decay or were demolished.


Time to take the plunge?


This contrasts with the position in a number of other countries, where there remains an understanding of (and state support for) the health and therapeutic benefits that thermal water-based treatments can offer, for both preventative and rehabilitation purposes. In central Europe for example, a weekly trip to the local spa is, for many, a routine part of a healthy lifestyle.


As financial pressure on the NHS reaches crisis point and concerns around the long-term impact of prescription drugs begin to surface, there are increasingly strong reasons to turn to more holistic therapies here in the UK.


The last few years have seen an increased focus on 'wellness' - physically, mentally and nutritionally - and many of us are taking a greater interest in looking after our own bodies. Might we see a similar shift in mind-set when it comes to treatments, and will we be willing to learn from the approach taken in other countries? We can expect to see a resurgence of medical spa treatments as more people are prepared to dip their toes into trying natural therapies.

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