The Ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans were probably not the first to recognise the therapeutic properties of water. The Greeks ascribed the healing effects of spring and sea water to the gods, so bathers hoping for a cure would make offerings to them before their dip. Europe is scattered with remains testifying to ancient spa culture, including massive Roman thermae which could accommodate as many as 3000 people.
Before the advent of antibiotics and immunisation people went to spas to cure disease, recover from illness and maintain optimal health. In 19th century Europe tuberculosis was a widespread killer. Sanatoria were established in mountain regions and forests since it was believed that clean air, rest and relaxation could help the body fight infection from such diseases. Since the medical effects of thermal spas had already been noted, they were also prime spots where sanatoria were established. It was not just the sick who went there; the rich and famous flocked to fashionable spa resorts such as Baden Baden, Carlsbad (today Karlovy vary) and Yalta to “take the waters” or sea air and indulge in some serious socializing.
It was at that time, when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, that the potential Croatia’s coast had for tourists seeking to improve their health was noticed. The health resorts grew up, notably Opatija which became a popular year-round health resort with the beautiful period architecture you see today. Today, tests show that the Adriatic Sea is indeed exceptionally clean and salty, and the air quality along the coastline is generally excellent, so those pioneers of health tourism knew their stuff.
Thalassotherapy is a range of treatments you’ll find offered at coastal health resorts developed to harness the healing properties of the sea. The treatments use sea water and products from the sea, such as mud and seaweed, which are naturally antibiotic and antibacterial, rich in mineral salts, trace elements, vitamins and amino acids. These are not only beneficial for the skin; they enter the body through osmosis and stimulate circulation, flush out toxins, support healing and immunity, reduce pain and contribute to the all-round stress-relieving experience that is a bathe in beautiful clean seawater.
Thalassotherapy also uses sea air as a therapy. People have long considered that sea air, rich in ozone and loaded with sea salt, has a health-giving effect. On the Kvarner coast, the air is also scented by lush vegetation including aromatic plants such as pine, rosemary, sage and lavender. Veli Lošinj in particular was beautifully planted with exotic specimens brought home by its sea captains who sailed around the globe. Although scientific evidence now disputes the ozone claim, the air at Veli Lošinj does help many people. The Croatian health service may send you to Veli Lošinj if you suffer from asthma, allergies, other respiratory illnesses, musculoskeletal or neurological disorders, and there are many overseas visitors to its Health Resort today.
What kinds of treatments can you expect in thalassotherapy? Warm sea water baths, including underwater massage jets; marine mud or seaweed body wraps and face masks; compresses made with sea products and sea air inhalations. Any of these treatments can be combined with physical exercise programmes, massage, relaxation classes, medical electrotherapy and alternative approaches such as acupuncture or Ayurveda. Thalassotherapy centres may offer programmes with a combination of these treatments designed to target particular problems, or clients can put together their own programmes in consultation with a therapist.
Rijeka is well located for three thalassotherapy resorts founded under the Austro-Hungarian Empire: Crikvenica, Opatija and Veli Lošinj. Crikvenica is primarily a medical rehabilitation institution and does not offer stress reduction or beauty programmes as such, but Thalasso Wellness Centar Opatija has a fully-fledged spa offering relaxation and beauty treatments, while Veli Lošinj has created holistic programmes comprising thalassotherapy and medical treatments, exercise and education for sufferers of respiratory ailments, back pain, joint pain, skin conditions and more in managing their conditions.
Today we often forget that prevention is better than cure. So indulge with a clear conscience in the fresh air, clean sea and your choice of marine treatments. You are ensuring your good health for the future!
We asked Radmila Depope, head physiotherapist in Thalasso Wellness Centar Opatija, to tell us a little about thalassotherapy and the treatments which can relieve pain and contribute to physical wellbeing.
Why is water so healing?
Radmila: Because of all its characteristics: the power of buoyancy, hydrostatic pressure and high specific capacity for thermal conductivity. These mean that water supports your body when exercising (your muscles need to do less work in order to move); it stimulates circulation, reduces swelling, and the effect of heat relaxes the body and reduces spasm and pain. All of this means that water helps in conditions where muscles are weak, and with rheumatic conditions, trauma, orthopaedic and neurological conditions, to name but a few…
What are the most common problems that people come to you with?
Radmila:Problems with feet, hips and hands; back pain, haemorrhoids, inflammatory skin conditions and stress. Probably we see the greatest reduction of pain in osteoarthritis affecting the ankle joints, fibromyalgia and herniated or prolapsed discs in the neck region, and less pain reduction in osteoarthritis of the hips and rheumatism.
Are there any differences in the treatments you offer based on the seaon, summer and winter?
Radmila:There is no significant difference in summer or winter, there are just times of the year when we offer more slimming and detox programmes, or for example rejuvenation of dry skin at the end of the summer, and beauty treatments.
Can you feel the benefits of thalassotherapy after one day visit or does it take longer?
Radmila:If we look from the viewpoint of Plato’s theory that “the sea washes away the ills of all mankind”, for sure just one bath in a sea water pool can help a city dweller seeking an oasis of peace and a break from stress to feel better. Of course, more frequent use contributes to clients’ feeling of wellbeing in the longer term. For that reason we have many clients who use our services on a daily, monthly or annual basis.