A new spate of research is focusing on the benefits of aquatic and hot water therapy, covering topics from psychology to knee pain.

“We love research — the more data, the better,” said Kathleen Carlson, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Aqua Quip, a Seattle-based Pool & Spa News Top Builder. “We could use it in our sales presentations, [but] I think there’s a larger advantage to the industry to use it to market the category.”

She thinks this research is a direct result of the slowdown the spa industry has seen across the board in the past year. “If you have any decline in an industry, then the smart people try to figure out why and what can be done to counteract it,” she said.

Among the pending projects is a two-year study conducted by Dr. Bruce Becker, a professor at Washington State University in Pullman. Becker will observe the physiological changes that underpin feelings of pleasure and relaxation experienced by most spa users.

“When someone slips into a hot tub, you see a look of relief,” Becker said. “There is something about the water that is biologically healing and satisfying.”

In his study, patients will be submerged in three increasingly warm hot tubs. Factors such as blood pressure and heart rate will be recorded to determine the subjects’ stress levels.

His investigation is one of several studies that have recently emerged, each of which focus on a different health benefit of hot water therapy. At the forefront is the National Swimming Pool Foundation, which is partly funding Becker’s work.

“There’s a gap in the information on how effective a hot tub would be in terms of heart health, respiratory health and basic relaxation,” said Thomas M. Lachocki, Ph.D., CEO of Colorado Springs, Colo.-based NSPF. “Our mission is to encourage healthier living through aquatic research. On my desk, I have a million dollars’ worth of grant applications.”

Among the research proposals:

  • Researchers at Indiana University in Bloomington want to conduct a scientific review of the existing literature on the psychological benefits of immersion in water.
  • At the University of Nevada, Dr. Mary Sanders is curious about how training in water can help a person be more effective in land-based activities.
  • Dr. Steven Blair, a professor at the University of South Carolina, aims to examine data on patients who are also swimmers.
  • The NSPF studies are not alone. Most recently, the American Physical Therapy Association completed its research on knee-replacement patients, which was facilitated with the help of the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals.

“Their research showed that those patients who received hot tub therapy in addition to traditional, land-based therapy showed more improvement in terms of pain and swelling, and improved flexibility,” said Lauren Stack, director of marketing and promotions for the Alexandria, Va.-based trade association.
“They also reported that they have overall increased mobility, which may allow more people who receive total knee replacement the opportunity to return to normal activity faster,” she added.

Spa and pool professionals, meanwhile, are hopeful that the information will be of practical value to the industry.