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Although thalassotherapy has been a popular choice for recreation and enjoyment for over a century, few know exactly what it is and why it is so beneficial.

Thalassotherapy: definition and history

The concept of thalassotherapy dates back to 1867, when Joseph La Bonnardière first coined the term. Etymologically, the word comes from the Greek thalassa (sea) and therapeia (treatment or cure).

Combining these two concepts, the International Federation of Thalassotherapy defines thalassotherapy as the “simultaneous use, under medical supervision and with a preventive or curative purpose, of the benefits of the marine environment”.

Thalassotherapy centers have reached vogue status in certain circles in recent years.  The rise in wellness tourism in particular has boosted the growth of spaces dedicated to health and well-being, including thalassotherapy centers.

Thalassotherapy harnesses the power of the marine bioclimate, seawater, mud, seaweed, sand and other substances like plankton, using them together or separately to deliver a host of health benefits.

Thalassotherapy centers are usually located near the sea and may or may not include hotel facilities. The facilities draw fresh seawater, treat it (and bring it to an ideal temperature of 37ºC) and pump it throughout the center so that it can be used in treatments.

What is thalassotherapy used for and why is it beneficial?

Thalassotherapy is used to treat or prevent illnesses. Using marine elements is an excellent example of the mind-body connection and how important it is to balance that connection for long-lasting wellness.

Although there are some restrictions that should be considered before trying this therapeutic alternative, seawater has numerous health benefits with a positive impact in the following areas:

  • Treatments for the locomotor system, speeding up muscle, bone, tendon and ligament healing. It is also good for rheumatism and osteoporosis.
  • Building up physical and mental strength, helping to alleviate fatigue.
  • Improve skin conditions (for example, stabilizing psoriasis) and those related to body fat.
  • It helps relieve neurological and respiratory conditions (like asthma or pharyngitis).

At the psychological level, it has been proven that thalassotherapy is an effective aid to combat stress, fatigue, anxiety and sleep disorders such as insomnia.

Thalassotherapy and health: how the different elements help

Seawater

This is the basic element of thalassotherapy. Rich in trace elements like sodium chloride, magnesium chloride and potassium chloride, it contains substances similar to those found in blood plasma. Given their similarity, the body easily absorbs these elements through osmosis, enhancing all their benefits.

Seaweed

Seaweed is rich in minerals, vitamins and proteins, all substances that the human body needs. For example, eating seaweed helps protect against bacteria and viruses and helps improve organ and joint health. These properties have also been recently recognized by the cosmetic industry, which is promoting the use of seaweed to improve skin health.

Sea mud

Sea mud is also rich in minerals, vitamins and proteins, making it perfect for use in a number of body treatments. It also combines beneficial natural minerals from both water and earth, such as sulfur, magnesium, copper, iron and quartz.

Sand

Beach sand provides many benefits to the body: it helps the circulatory system, reduces the risk of osteoporosis, and tones, exfoliates and soothes.

Plankton

Plankton, more than just a trendy (and healthy) ingredient in avant-garde cooking, is also used in body treatments because of it is rich in vitamins B and E, which help block free radicals. It also defends the body against bites and supplies glycoproteins and extra nutrition to the skin.

Marine bioclimate

The sea breeze and the marine climate are excellent for enhancing well-being.  The marine bioclimate helps increase the skin’s oxygen intake, boosts the elimination of toxins, improves breathing, strengthens bones, naturally eliminates impurities, improves muscle strength, benefits the heart and increases joint mobility.

Types of thalassotherapy

1. Peloidotherapy

Peloidotherapy aims to generate heat in specific areas of the body to relieve joint or muscular issues. Peloids (organic and inorganic substances mixed with mineral, sea or salt lake water) are used in addition to psammotherapy (hot sand baths).

2. Algotherapy

Recommended for patients with glandular disorders or skin conditions, it uses dried or fresh seaweed in hot water or in poultices (body wraps).

3. Hydrokinesitherapy

This treatment is based on physical exercise in water, either in a saltwater pool or the sea.

4. Hydromassage

The most popular of the four techniques, it consists of applying pressure to the body using water jets, often supplemented with chromotherapy (the use of color to treat diseases). Major benefits include relaxed muscles and improved circulation.

Thalassotherapy: how is the water treated?

Thalassotherapy facilities require a certain level of design and engineering to ensure that the characteristics and properties of the seawater are preserved.

Which is why these centers often have an open circuit, thus avoiding the need to treat the water through filtration and disinfection.

If an open circuit isn’t possible, the water in the pools and hydrotherapy baths needs to be refreshed constantly to ensure that the positive properties of the seawater remain intact.

After drawing seawater into a closed circuit, it needs to be filtered using sand filters, disinfected with chlorine and, ideally, UV equipment.

The equipment used to treat seawater should be made of plastic and fiberglass, materials that are resistant to marine environments and radiation. Another, albeit less advisable, option is to use metal parts with high-quality epoxy treatments to prevent corrosion. It should be noted that there is no specific list of materials for thalassotherapy centers.

And more than just the equipment and elements that come into contact with seawater are susceptible to corrosion: any area of the installation, including lighting, must be monitored to avoid potential corrosion.

Finally, center owners need to pay special attention to issues with sedimentation and the entry of solids together with the water, in addition to the pH, which must be methodically managed when it comes to seawater.

In short, thalassotherapy is a complex aquatic installation that has its own unique idiosyncrasies that require monitoring to ensure that not only the properties of seawater and other marine elements contribute to users’ well-being but that the treatment systems function correctly throughout the useful life of the installation.

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