Natural hot springs and mineral pools in the western and southern United States can feel like oddly tranquil water parks: There are no screaming children, just mud-caked adults wandering dreamily from pool to pool, clad in plush, terry-cloth robes instead of bright plastic inner tubes. Rather than offering thrills and adrenaline-spiked fun, the pools raise serotonin levels along with body temperature, rejuvenating visitors and perhaps even healing their physical ailments.
Some of these springs cite purported health benefits including relief from depression, indigestion, arthritis, stomach ulcers, and a variety of skin conditions—all thanks to the waters’ natural concentrations of minerals, including arsenic, iron, and lithia. Scientific studies confirming these claims are hard to come by, though hot-spring therapy is a common and medically accepted treatment for conditions ranging from high blood pressure to eczema in Europe and Japan. One Israeli study concluded that fibromyalgia patients who took hot sulfur baths had a decrease in pain and fatigue; another reported that soaking in Dead Sea salt baths lessened joint pain in arthritis patients.
While Minnesota is unfortunately lacking in the hot-springs department (a parody website boasting of 17 acres of natural hot springs in Mankato notwithstanding), there’s no shortage of options for indoor hydrotherapy of both the medical and indulgent varieties. Several local spas combine the principles of aquatic therapy with impressive modern technology to create an experience of pampering and relaxation at once timeless and distinctly space-agey.
Ivy Spa Club in downtown Minneapolis, for example, offers a stress-relieving milk bath in a Kohler VibrAcoustic Hydrotherapy tub, which plays music both above and below the water line, surrounding the bather in soothing or invigorating sound-wave vibrations. (Heavy metal is presumably not among the musical selections.)
Several other area spas, including Eagan’s Solimar Spa, Wayzata’s Juut, and Nisswa’s Glacial Waters Spa at Grand View Lodge, offer Vichy shower massages, in which a masseuse aims a multi-headed shower at key pressure points.
Lisa Delton, spa director at Glacial Waters, says that relaxation is only the beginning of what such hydrotherapy can do. The combination of a soak’s warmth and its particular blend of minerals, salts, and scents can have many benefits, she claims, including increased circulation, immune-system support, increased endorphin production, improved sleep, headache prevention, and decreased stress, pain, and toxins.
For those dealing with a health condition, the aquatic facility at the Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute in Minneapolis uses a pool heated to 92 degrees as part of an overall approach to physical therapy for conditions ranging from acute or chronic injury to arthritis, stroke, and neurological disorders. “Aquatic therapy is ideal for people who need to get moving to manage symptoms of a systemic, long-term medical issue, but gravity isn’t necessarily their friend,” says Amy McKeen Toth, a physical therapist at the institute. “The thermal effect of the heated water helps relax patients’ muscles, and the buoyancy enables them to move in ways they may not be able to on land. And the warmth also just makes it a more pleasant experience.”
Especially as the temperatures drop, anything good for the body that a warm water immersion can enable—from moving or relaxing muscles to just plain feeling good and de-stressing—makes it worth taking the plunge.