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New evidence on mechanisms of action of spa therapy in rheumatic diseases

Sara Tenti, Antonella Fioravanti 1 Giacomo Maria Guidelli 1 Nicola Antonio Pascarelli 1 Sara Cheleschi 1

1University of Siena

ABSTRACT

Spa represents a treatment widely used in many rheumatic diseases (RD). The mechanisms by which immersion in mineral or thermal water ameliorates RD are not fully understood. The net benefit is probably the result of a combination of factors, among which the mechanical, thermal and chemical effects are most prominent. Buoyancy, immersion, resistance and temperature play important roles. According to the gate theory, pain relief may be due to the pressure and temperature of the water on skin; heat may reduce muscle spasm and increase the pain threshold. Mud-bath therapy increases plasma β-endorphin levels and secretion of corticotrophin, cortisol, growth hormone and prolactin. It has recently been demonstrated that thermal mud-bath therapy induces a reduction in circulating levels of prostaglandin E2, leukotriene B4, interleukin-1β and tumour necrosis factor-α, important mediators of inflammation and pain. Furthermore, balneotherapy has been found to cause an increase in insulin-like growth factor-1, which stimulates cartilage metabolism, and transforming growth factor-β. Beneficial anti-inflammatory and anti-degenerative effects of mineral water were confirmed in chondrocytes cultures, too. Various studies in vitro and in humans have highlighted the positive action of mud-packs and thermal baths, especially sulphurous ones, on the oxidant/antioxidant system. Overall, thermal stress has an immunosuppressive effect. Many other non-specific factors may also contribute to the beneficial effects observed after spa therapy in some RD, including effects on cardiovascular risk factors (e.g. adipokines) and changes in the environment, pleasant surroundings and the absence of work duties.

Citation status

* References for papers published after 2022 are currently being built.