Watsu Therapy Creating Pain Joint Mobility what to Expect

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3 Geisha women between buildings photo by Satoshi Hirayama from Pexels

Water has been incorporated as treatment for conditions through the centuries. Just soaking in a tub is both relaxing and therapeutic.

Not to mention as we drink it we become hydrated nourishing our organs and keeping everything flowing. I discovered World Wide Watsu Week happens to be March 22nd through the 28th.

Disclaimer: This website is for informational purposes and not for diagnosis. More details.

What is Watsu?

The term “Watsu” is a combination of “water” and “shiatsu”. Making it hydrotherapy aka water therapy. There is no gravity, with the help of the water your body mobilizes in three dimensions.

Shiatsu is a traditional type of Japanese massage using acupressure and stretches done in warm water to encourage relaxation. This type of massage is best to relieve all kinds of tension. In Japanese, shiatsu is defined as “finger pressure”.

Through the freedom from the water your own body maneuvers adjustments to bring back your natural wellbeing.

Some have described it as flying free from the sky or like a fish swimming in water. Without gravity for the hour your spine becomes more flexible and all your joints find relief.

Creating Watsu

The creator of Watsu is Harold Dull a massage therapist from Hot Springs, California. He spent time in Japan where he studied Zen Shiatsu with Master Masunaga.

In 1980, Dull having a love for water, started applying Zen Shiatsu with a massage table placed in a thermal pool of water. He discovered by holding his client, there was no need for the massage table.

Finding it easier on his clients’ muscles and tissues when relaxing in water he also  discover that shiatsu was more effective with the techniques done in water.

Usually, Watsu therapy helps to reduce pain and discomfort from a variety of illness. The whole concept being through the resistance provided by the water there is soothing of physical tension, this encourages relaxation thus supporting your overall health.

How does Watsu Work?

A pool or hot tub is where Watsu therapy takes place. The water temperature is 95 degrees F (35 degrees C). This temperature is close to your skin temperature.

The therapist will gently move your body during Watsu in the water. This is also referred to as passive hydrotherapy because you are relying on the therapist to do the movements for you.

So the therapist is also in the water beside you. Your body is moved in certain ways including:

  • Twisting gently
  • Rocking or cradling
  • Stretching
  • Massaging pressure points

Releasing tension of your muscles and fascia tissue is the goal. This also provides a healthy flow of energy (qi).

As Watsu is normally done to encourage relaxation the therapist may also play calming music during your session.

Koi fish photo by Ryutaro Tsukata from Pexels
Koi fish photo by Ryutaro Tsukata from Pexels

What is Watsu used for?

Watsu is a therapeutic treatment to help alleviate pain and tension. It has also been used to enhance physical movement and joint mobility.

This can help those with:

  • Tense muscles
  • Lower back pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Pregnancy discomfort
  • PTSD
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Stress-related conditions
  • Neurological conditions (multiple sclerosis)
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Injury rehabilitation
clear pool water photo by pixabay from pexels
clear pool water photo by pixabay from pexels

What are benefits of Watsu?

Since Watsu was created in 1980 there aren’t many studies available. Although there is evidence of benefits such as:

Decreased pain. There has been positive research with Watsu and pain relief. A small study done in 2015 includes nine healthy pregnant women experienced decreased levels of pain after Watsu therapy. Researchers conclude the water immersion on joints impact the therapeutic effect.

Twelve people having fibromyalgia participated in a similar study in 2013. After fifteen Watsu sessions they also reported less pain.

This could be explained as the effect water has on pain receptors (aka nociceptors). The waters pressure and viscosity decreases stimulation in these receptors resulting in lower pain perception.

Waters buoyancy reduces the gravity pull on your muscles also promoting muscle relaxation. This in turn leads to lower pain levels.

Reduced anxiety. When we are in pain our anxiety tends to increase. This may be relieved through Watsu by managing the pain.

As anxiety and stress we know, can make pain perception worse. Watsu relaxing treatments help to improve perceived pain.

In the 2015 study above involving the pregnant women they also experienced improvement of mood after Watsu sessions.

The discoveries are very encouraging but these studies are still small. To understand this connection better between Watsu and anxiety more research needs to be done.

Lymphatic drainage. Watsu also is effective in promoting lymphatic drainage. The still water pressure stimulates and enhances your blood and lymph circulation. This is very beneficial if you have ever had fluid retention or swelling in your joints.

Trauma related or water phobias. Watsu can also be used as another treatment for trauma related experiences that involved water or water phobias.

Your therapist holds you in a way that your face is always above the water. So you have a comfortable and safe floating experience minus working or worrying with maintaining this balance.

It has been shown to improve patient’s recovery after a major surgery and also helping with recovery post mastectomy.

green floating device in pool photo by Juan Salamanca from pexels
green floating device in pool photo by Juan Salamanca from pexels

What Groups of People could benefit from Watsu?

  • Seniors
  • Adults
  • Athletes
  • Pregnant
  • Children

Does Watsu have Side Effects?

I wouldn’t call them side effects but this is something to consider. Watsu is a passive type of therapy where you aren’t actively moving your body. That being said, you have to be willing to let the therapist control you.

This also puts you in close contact with the therapist who is touching you. For some, this is a drawback, if the situation presents uncomfortable feelings.

Avoid Watsu if you have:

  • Open wounds
  • Skin infections
  • Fever
  • Uncontrolled epilepsy
  • Serious heart problems
  • Serious urinary tract conditions
  • Bowel incontinence
  • Respiratory disease
  • Allergy to pool chemicals

These problems could get worse or interfere with water therapy. The therapist should also provide special attention if you have:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Spinal problems
  • Balance problems

It’s a good idea to consult your doctor, if you are pregnant before starting Watsu. Pregnant women usually enjoy the gravity relieving feelings during floating in the water. However, your doctor can confirm whether you’re a good candidate for Watsu.

What is expected at a Watsu Session?

Your therapist will take into account your specific condition. This will include massages, stretches, along with movements aimed at reducing your symptoms.


Watsu sessions may vary according to your needs; usually this is what can be expected:

  1. The therapist could provide you with floating devices to wear on your arms or legs.
  2. Once you enter the water, you’ll float on your back. Usually, the back of your head and knees will cover the therapist’s forearms.
  3. Slowly your therapist will rotate, moving your body in large circles.
  4. Your therapist will alternate their arms from extending them to moving them back again, while moving you back and forth in the process.
  5. The therapist will draw out your arms and legs in gentle repeated patterns. This may also include bending, lifting or twisting your other body parts.
  6. Your therapist may rest your head on their shoulders as you are moved in large circles.
  7. During the session your therapist also massages pressure points on your body.

Typically a Watsu session will last about an hour.

young female photo by istlife from Pexels
young female photo by istlife from Pexels

Where to Find Help in Finding a Watsu Practitioner?

If you are interested in trying Watsu, working with a trained and licensed practitioner is important.

You could inquire your doctor for a referral if this is an option for you. Find out if it’s covered by your health insurance.

You could also check with the state board of health to find therapist who are currently licensed.

You could contact your local spas, wellness centers and water therapy clinics to ask if they offer Watsu.

If you have a specific condition or pain, search for a specialist of that area.

For a list of Watsu Practitioners click here.

Wrapping it up

With Watsu therapy you have to be willing to allow your therapist to gently move your body while floating in warm pool water. Your therapist also provides massage and acupressure according to shiatsu. The passive, calming nature of Watsu may help reduce pain and anxiety.

Although the research on this water therapy is small Watsu has been used extensively in treating injuries and to manage conditions such as fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis and anxiety.

But before signing up for a Watsu session consult your doctor first and confirm it is safe for you to try.

Would you know a family member, friend or acquaintance that has had a form of water therapy?

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Header Photo 3 Geisha women between buildings photo by Satoshi Hirayama from Pexels

Mary is the founder of All About Our Skin. Former esthetician and CPC. Enjoys researching skincare and has been studying our skin for the past fourteen years.
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