Aches and pains are an unavoidable fact of life. Whether it's a stubbed toe or pounding headache, we're all afflicted by pain at one point or another. Sometimes those pains can be embarrassing and uncomfortable… like when it happens below the belt.
It's hard to talk about these health issues – pelvic inflammatory disease, herpes, hemorrhoids – and even harder to find the right treatment for relief and peace of mind. From far-off doctor's appointments to creams riddled with chemicals, looking for the right solution can be overwhelming.
Enter sitz baths.
What You'll Learn...
In this article you'll learn:
1) What a Sitz bath is and what it is used for
2) When to take a hot vs. cold vs. alternating Sitz bath
3) How to augment a Sitz bath with essential oils, including recipes from our aromatherapist designed to aid healing for:
Cystitis | Constipation | Hemorrhoids | Herpes | Impotence | Inflammation | Incontinence | Muscle Pain | Ovarian Discomfort | Prostatitis | Postpartum Recovery | Uterine Cramps | Vaginitis | Vaginal Surgery Recovery
What is a Sitz bath?
A Sitz bath, from the German word ‘zitzen’, meaning to sit, is often referred to as a hip bath. In the mid-1850’s, a sitz tub was used. The tubs were made of tin and were lined in “linen damask, think bird’s eye diaper, or white huckaback” towels to protect the skin from the tin’s heat. The tub warmed the water. Bathing experts recommended vigorous toweling after the bath to promote blood circulation and to remove dry skin. Although created for medical purposes, people found that they really enjoyed them as well.
Although to date there is no evidence that a sitz bath will ease pain and discomfort, personal experience speaks otherwise. Along with healing essential oils, the benefits of healing would certainly increase. Despite the lack of evidence, physicians often recommend the use of a warm bath to ease discomfort.
Today, by obtaining a kit that fits right over the toilet seat and comes with a cord and bag to disperse the water, anyone can do a sitz bath. These can be obtained from a medical supply store, pharmacy, or online. Although these kits are handy, sitting in your tub in water may bring greater relief. A sitz bath is a great way to cleanse and relieve discomfort, pain, or itching of the perineum, which is the space between the rectum and the vulva or scrotum.
Whether recuperating from surgery, hemorrhoids, or various other discomforts, a sitz bath, along with the right essential oils, can bring a huge comfort. Taking steps to use your essential oils safely ensures that you don’t add to your discomfort. Prior to adding them to your water, you should add essential oils to a carrier oil to disperse your essential oils properly so they don’t adhere to the tender skin. If you’ve recently had surgery, birth, or other open wounds, consult with your physician before immersing or cleansing the area with water - with or without essential oils.
When Should I Take One?
Anytime you want to ease pain or discomfort, inflammation, or speed up healing, soaking in the water will increase blood flow to the area, easing discomfort and increasing your healing. There may be situations where a sitz bath may not heal your condition, but it can bring great relief to many associated symptoms. Conditions that it may help include anal fissure, constipation or diarrhea, soreness, inflammation, and more. This may be helpful for young children who experience constipation and may be suggested by your pediatrician.
It's worth noting though, that not all of these ailments require the same kind of sitz bath. Let's take a look at the differences, and when to use each one.
Hot Sitz Baths
There's nothing more soothing than a hot bath to unwind those aching joints and muscles. A hot sitz bath is just a concentrated dose of that relaxation. Taking a hot sitz bath encourages increased blood flow to the pelvic region, helping to move stagnation, alleviate sore muscles, or relieve infections. These are some conditions that benefit from the aid of a hot sitz bath.
When it comes to yeast infections, many people swear by adding baking soda into the hot sitz bath for balancing your pH. On top of that, there are many recommendations for using raw apple cider vinegar (with the mother) as an effective remedy to combat yeast infections – especially when added to a sitz bath. I may be partial to apple cider vinegar, but in my experience, it's a rapid and long-lasting treatment that's my go-to for any skin, pH, or hormone issues my body is facing.
Cold Sitz Baths
While a cold sitz bath certainly sounds less soothing than its hot counterpart, cold water has been an integral part of health routines around the world for centuries, said to improve health and vigor against a swathe of ailments. Some of the ailments that a cold sitz bath might relieve include.
Alternating Hot and Cold Sitz Baths
Ah, this one is an in-home version of the banya tradition: basking in a hot sauna until you reach your limit, and then dunking yourself in ice water to invigorate you, strengthening your heart and encouraging blood flow. This style of sitz bath, although the most involved, has been used in Russia and Finland for almost a thousand years, and is said to help with a number of issues. In the sitz bath version, there are several particular disorders that are known to benefit from an alternating sitz bath.
Sitz baths are a simple, essentially risk-free process that only takes a maximum of thirty minutes of your day. For relief from any and all of these ailments, I'd call that well worth the time and effort.
How do I make a Sitz bath?
Either follow the directions of your kit or do your bath in the tub. Use enough water to cover the pelvis and abdominal area. Avoid using any added soaps or bubble bath products. Depending on why you are doing it, you can soak up to three times a day for about 15-20 minutes or as you or your physician decides.
As stated, shower gel, bubble bath, or any type of soap or synthetic ingredients can add to your discomfort rather than relieving it. Some physicians may prescribe an additive or they may suggest epsom salts and that is fine.
Taking a sitz bath in the bathtub
For a hot sitz bath, fill a clean bathtub with only a few inches of water so that it's no higher than your belly button. The water should be hot, but not uncomfortably so. Remember, burning hot water could only serve to exacerbate the conditions you're trying to soothe. Once your water has filled the tub no more than a few inches, lower yourself in, keeping your torso and legs out of the water.
If possible, it's best to dangle your legs out of the tub so they aren't submerged at all. If that isn't feasible for you, then having your legs bent at an angle so that they are primarily above water would work just fine. The idea behind this is to encourage blood to flow to your pelvic area, helping things move through the body, thereby relieving discomfort. Hot sitz baths should last anywhere from fifteen to thirty minutes.
For a cold sitz bath, the preparation is the same – except the water is as cold as possible. The primary difference between the two baths? Duration. While you can safely linger in a hot sitz bath for up to thirty minutes, the recommended time for a cold sitz bath ranges from as long as eight minutes to as brief as one minute. Err on the side of caution, perhaps even setting a timer to remind you to get out, if your condition is one that is best served by a cold sitz bath.
The most involved of the three sitz baths is the one alternating between hot and cold temperatures. As most of us don't have two bathtubs in close proximity to one another, or even a basin large enough to host our aching bodies comfortably, it seems like a challenge. Thankfully, there are solutions. Over at Acadiana Natural Health Center, they recommend filling the bathtub with comfortably hot water – again, to no higher than your navel – and filling a large bowl with water and ice.
In the ice water bowl, soak a towel large enough to wrap around your pelvis and let it get cold. Sit in the hot bath for a few minutes, then stand up and wrap the icy towel – without wringing it out – around your pelvic area and between your legs. Keep it there for thirty seconds. Repeat this three times, ending after the third cold session, and towel dry.
What if I don't have a tub at all?
If you don't have a bathtub, there are still a variety of sitz baths available that you can adapt for use while sitting on your toilet. Look for one with a solution for water overflow, like this one from Amazon. Otherwise, you could have a spill all across your bathroom floor. The way these sitz baths work varies depending on the exact type you buy, but they typically include a pump to squeeze, filling it with fresh warm water and letting the cooling water drain out the back.
Are there any risks to a sitz bath?
Sitz baths are among the safest treatments available. As it's a concentrated bath, the only risks involved are the ones common to any bath. In a hot sitz bath, you may experience some dizziness when standing up. If you're prone to lightheadedness, it's wise to have someone with you to help you exit the tub.
How Can Essential Oils Help?
Like the parent plant, essentials oils have many therapeutic properties, varying from oil to oil. Essential oils are made of tiny molecules that can cross the blood-brain barrier and enter our bloodstream, therapeutically going to work.
Essential oils consist of chemical families and within those families are components called constituents. Each component has its own therapeutic property, although the total chemical makeup contributes to the power of each oil.
Essential oils are not water soluble, which means “oil and water don’t mix.” To protect your skin and prior to adding to your bath, blend your choice of essential oils with a carrier oil. Choosing some simple on-hand ingredients may be easier than you think. Organic aloe vera jelly, which contains thickeners and preservatives as well as aloe vera leaf extract, is a good choice.
You can make this ahead and keep on hand for the duration of your recovery without concern for bacteria. Water-based products without a preservative can be a breeding ground for bacteria. Note that aloe vera gel, juice, and liquid are not aloe vera jelly and are water-based.
The second option is adding your oils to a vegetable or fruit oil. This protects the skin, but it does make for a bit of a “slick” bath so you should take caution both sitting and standing when getting in and out of a tub. For a less greasy experience, you may opt for coconut oil or jojoba oil (wax).
Combine 1-5 drops of your essential oil or blend into ½ ounce (1 tablespoon) of a carrier of your choice. For a regular size tub, you could use 5-20 drops per ½ ounce (1 tablespoon).
The oils I’ve chosen for the various issues can be found in the provided references at the end of the article. There are other oils that may have the same therapeutic properties.