A day at the spa... in your own back­yard

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - HOMES - By Pe­dro Ar­rais

WHEN Lynn Philips orig­i­nally in­stalled a jet­ted hot tub in 1989, it was purely for re­lax­ation. But 21 years later, a soak in her hot tub de­liv­ers an added ben­e­fit by pro­vid­ing re­lief for her arthri­tis.

She’s not alone. Many arthri­tis suf­fer­ers don’t start their day without a soak in the morn­ing. Im­mer­sion in hot wa­ter di­lates blood ves­sels, re­laxes tight mus­cles and re­leases en­dor­phins — the body’s nat­u­ral painkillers. It also serves as a great stress re­liever.

“En­joy it while you have it,” says Philips, who is en­joy­ing her third jet­ted tub. “It helped re­lieve the stress when I was re­cov­er­ing from my knee trans­plants.”

Hot tubs and spas have a nat­u­ral ap­peal to peo­ple liv­ing in a colder cli­mate, says Grant Gis­la­son, who started off in the in­dus­try by custom-build­ing hot tubs with wood from re­cy­cled wine bar­rels more than 30 years ago in Vic­to­ria.

“You have buoy­ancy and you have warmth. How much more ther­a­peu­tic can you get?” says Gis­la­son, now owner of Vin­tage Hot Tubs.

He points out “to­day’s spas are a far cry from yes­ter­day’s hot tubs.”

Most spas have high-pres­sure jet noz­zles that di­rect pul­sat­ing wa­ter to­ward sore mus­cles and joints. Jets are com­monly clus­tered to de­liver pres­sure to mas­sage spe­cific groups of nerves and mus­cles, such as the neck, shoul­ders, back or feet. Mod­ern jets are more so­phis­ti­cated, with dif­fer­ent de­signs and sizes for dif­fer­ent ar­eas of the body.

While spas can be lav­ish, equipped with dozens of jets, bub­blers, lights, wa­ter­falls, stereos and even pop-up flat-screen tele­vi­sions, their cost isn’t much more than units made 15 years ago. They are more en­ergy-ef­fi­cient as well, thanks to ad­vances in in­su­la­tion, pump motors, elec­tron­ics, construction and ma­te­ri­als.

While some units can cost more than $40,000, their hefty price tags have more to do with op­tions some peo­ple de­mand. More jets in a spa mean it needs more motors, which can cost up to $700 each. They then re­quire ex­tra elec­tron­ics to run.

How­ever, the typ­i­cal spa that sold for $15,000 15 years ago costs the same to­day. Whirlpool spas start at $5,000 but the av­er­age sell­ing price is gen­er­ally be­tween $8,000 and $10,000.

While she doesn’t have the orig­i­nal bill for her first tub, Philips finds the cost com­pa­ra­ble — as long as one does not add more op­tions to the tub.

“If you get all the bells and whis­tles — the lights, the wa­ter­fall — it can be costly,” she says.

Sizes and shapes vary, from com­pact mod­els that seat two in­ti­mately, to party tubs that can ac­com­mo­date more than a dozen. By far the most pop­u­lar model is a five-to six-per­son unit that holds about 1,500 litres of wa­ter.

Still, the ro­man­tic im­age of a wooden bar­rel hot tub with wa­ter heated by a wood-burn­ing stove en­dures, with sev­eral com­pa­nies still sell­ing a model in the fa­mil­iar bar­rel shape, but with mod­ern elec­tron­ics and fea­tures.

Jet­ted hot tubs can be in­ex­pen­sive to op­er­ate. En­ergy is used to power the pump that pro­duces the jet­ted wa­ter, and also to heat the wa­ter. A well-in­su­lated spa with a tight-fit­ting rigid insulating cover will lose only two or three de­grees a day. If the spa is well-in­su­lated, the cost of keep­ing the heater on when the spa is not in use is small.

To re­duce growth of bac­te­ria, it’s ad­vis­able to run the pump at least twice a day for four to six hours. Wa­ter must be tested reg­u­larly, two or three times a week, to ad­just dis­in­fec­tant lev­els. Fil­ters should be cleaned once a month.

While phys­io­ther­a­pists agree on the ben­e­fits of heat for suf­fer­ers of os­teoarthri­tis, they stop short of rec­om­mend­ing their pa­tients go out to buy a hot tub or jet­ted whirlpool.

“Re­search shows heat can help di­late blood ves­sels (and thus) in­crease blood flow to af­fected ar­eas,” says Scott Simp­son, a phys­io­ther­a­pist and for­mer Cana­dian run­ning cham­pion.

“But one can get the same ben­e­fits — at less cost — from soak­ing in a hot bath­tub.” He says the jets found on most whirlpools might feel good, but there is no ev­i­dence, for or against, that they fix any­thing.

He cau­tions any ther­a­peu­tic ben­e­fit of in­tro­duc­ing heat to an area to loosen up mus­cles does not ap­ply af­ter one sus­tains an in­jury, such as a sprain. In that case, the pa­tient should put ice on the af­fected area to de­crease swelling.

--Canwest News Ser­vice

Lynn Philips says her hot tub helps re­lieve her arthri­tis.

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