Common steps and sub-activities
Flotation therapy uses a water-filled tank that is approximately the size of a bed and heated to skin temperature. The water is saturated with Epsom salts so that the patient can float without any effort. The depth of the water must be such that the person floats – touching nothing but the warm water. The tank enables the user to be suspended in a gravity free environment which promotes deep levels of relaxation that can help heal the body from the inside out. The non-threatening environment of the tank also creates an ideal environment for pain relief with weightlessness and warmth.
Patients remove their clothes, enter the tank, optionally turn off the lights [it need not be pitch dark, as long as the colour is monochrome, the sensory deprivation is still achieved - a single tone light works as well as no light], and relax. The idea is that this sensation of zero stimuli helps the mind to focus inwardly, eliminating distractions and calming mind and body. Floaters are always able to exit the tank when they want to, thus there is no added feeling of threat caused by a locked door or sense of feeling trapped.
Float tanks, also known as a sensory deprivation tanks, are used for relieving pain, removing stress and anxiety, helping with insomnia and skin problems, plus a number of other health problems, which we will go into in more detail shortly.
The easiest way to find a flotation tank is to ask either your GP, local Physiotherapy department or even the nearest beauty salon or health spa. Tanks may also be found using a telephone directory or internet search engine. According to one supplier “A typical session lasts around 50 minutes and is approximately £50-£60.“ It appears to depend on the tank used, the location in the UK and the amount of added extras included.
Flotation REST (reduced environmental stimuli therapy)
Flotation REST (reduced environmental stimuli therapy) was developed in the 1950s by John C. Lilly, M.D. Since then considerable research has been undertaken exploring the possibilities this method offers.
A number of groups involved in trying to find benign ways of helping sufferers with specific problems, for example, have set up projects aimed at exploring and expanding their use. Those involved in the Fibromyalgia Floatation Project (FFP), now believe that spending an hour in a float tank helps sufferers reduce pain significantly.
Thomas H. Fine, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry of the Medical College of Ohio, and Roderick A Borrie, Ph.D., clinical psychologist at South Oaks Hospital, Amityville, New York, found that:
In their research, they found extraordinary benefits for chronic pain patients. Most of the patients that utilized flotation REST suffered from chronic pain for longer than six months and floated from one to 16 sessions. Overall, they reported a reduction in pain that averaged 31.3%, with the highest level of relief in the upper back at 63.6%, and the lowest in the legs at 15.3%. This seems to be a “clear demonstration” that float tanks help with chronic pain.
Uses and benefits
The benefits and uses cited by those who use float tanks include the following:
Pain and stress relief
Float therapy reduces pain including arthritis pain, back pain, sports injury pain, and pregnancy discomfort, and improves chronic pain conditions. As mentioned above float tanks have relieved the pain and emotional stress of fibromyalgia patients. As acute and chronic tension is released, slipped discs, joint pains, sciatica, lumbago, pulled muscles or sprains improve.
When external stimuli are eliminated, the fight-or-flight response is deactivated. This response is the cornerstone of the stress response, and many chronic pain sufferers are constantly in this state of stress as their body reacts to the pain. Chronic stress increases pain intensity. Eliminating or coping with stress better can help decrease sensitivity to pain. It also helps boost the immune system, enabling the body to muster its own defences against the causes of the pain.
A small-scale 2012 study also showed the profound benefits of float tanks. 81 volunteers with fibromyalgia were given three free float sessions in exchange for feedback on a questionnaire. Across the board, participants reported an immediate drop in pain and an increase in well-being. They also indicated a drop in pain over the course of the three sessions, so that their pain levels when they entered the tank were lower than they had been when they entered in the previous sessions.
Back problems are one of the most common conditions experienced among Americans. Unfortunately, many rely largely on treating pain symptoms through medication (pain killers), rather than using specific methods to create states of relaxation and as most people are aware, the problems with opioid addiction in the USA have reached severe proportions. It is estimated that 70–90% of people will suffer from lower back pain in some form at some point in their lives. Pain is the main symptom in most back problems.
Backache is also amongst the most difficult of symptoms as it can have so many causes. The advantage of floatation therapy is that by aiding in relaxation, and removing stress, the body itself is helped a great deal to muster its own defences, the immune system is boosted and if pain is removed, healing is helped considerably. Relaxation and the reduction of sensory stimuli contribute to an increase in the release of endorphins and can thus be linked to pain relief also at bio-chemical level. A higher level of 'natural opiates' in the blood of test persons was reliably tested in various examinations.
Floatation therapy has seen success easing chronic neck and back pain, and in helping with spinal misalignment issues.
Many skin problems are caused by toxins and pathogens, but exacerbated by the stress and pain resulting from the conditions. Epsom salts are magnesium and sulphate based. And magnesium and sulphate appear to provide the cells with the ability to fight toxins and pathogens. More details on how are provided in the section on Epsom salts. It is worth adding that research has shown that immediate magnesium treatment directly following injury improves both immediate as well as long term outcomes among patients with injury to the spinal cord.
But the Epsom salts may not be the principal basis on which the Flotation therapy is working. Again, the deep relaxation the tanks provide, along with temporary relief from the itch and the pain, may help to boost the immune system - and thus enable it to fight the pathogens causing the skin conditions. The salt that is used in the tank in such a high quantity and which causes the person to float (much like the Dead Sea), is also known to act as a muscle relaxant.
Insomnia, fatigue and exhaustion
Floating in a saturated solution of Epsom salts enables the human body to take a position which is unlike being in a bed, a waterbed, a bathtub or lying on any other surface. This particular position is characterized by the following:
- The spine is completely straight
- Individual vertebrae are not twisted
- All muscle groups (in particular the muscles of the neck) can relax simultaneously
- All joints, inter-vertebral discs, ligaments and bones are relieved at the same time
- There is no pressure being put on any part of the body
Both underweight or anorexic and obese people find sleeping to be extraordinarily difficult as their lack of protective flesh, or the abundance of it creates pressure points, which cause pain and discomfort. Those who have been bed ridden for great lengths of time and who have developed bed or pressure sores, the elderly, the diabetic [whose condition often results in weight being put on], those with heart conditions which produce fatty liver, and weight addition, could [and have in some cases] benefit from the removal of any sensory stimuli and the chance for their bodies to undergo complete rest and relaxation.
An hour or so of deep rest or sleep in a float chamber can produce remarkable healing effects - “one hour's relaxation in the tank is the equivalent to four hours of restful sleep”.
Heart problems and blood pressure
It has been proven that whilst in a flotation tank, users have a significant drop in blood pressure and a decrease in heart rate putting less strain on the heart. It is known that pain causes both a rise in blood pressure and pulse rate, so flotation therapy can help the heart because it helps alleviate the pain.
Researchers Oshin Vartanian of the University of Toronto and Peter Suedfeld of the University of British Columbia found that musicians who floated in the tank for one hour per week for four weeks showed better technical ability at the end of the research. The researchers compared two-minute recordings before and after from the study participants and the control group and found “a significant difference between the treatment and comparison groups on technical ability.”
Excellence in sports.
College athletes have benefited from REST also. Multiple studies have found that when combined with imagery, athletes from gymnasts to professional tennis players to collegiate basketball players improved performance measurably over the long term.
The Effects of Flotation REST on the Symptoms of Fibromyalgia - Roderick Borrie, Ph.D.,Tamara Russell, Ph.D. and Stefan Schneider, Ph.D.
For iPad/iPhone users: tap letter twice to get list of items.
- Beneficial effects of treatment with sensory isolation in flotation-tank as a preventive health-care intervention – a randomized controlled pilot trial
- Effects of flotation-REST on muscle tension pain
- Effects of flotation-restricted environmental stimulation technique on stress-related muscle pain: what makes the difference in therapy--attention-placebo or the relaxation response?
- Effects of relaxation associated with brief restricted environmental stimulation therapy (REST) on plasma cortisol, ACTH, and LH
- Examining the short-term anxiolytic and antidepressant effect of Floatation-REST
- Graham Hancock's Float Tank Experience
- Promising effects of treatment with flotation-REST (restricted environmental stimulation technique) as an intervention for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): a randomized controlled pilot trial
- Report on Absorption of magnesium sulfate (Epsom salts) across the skin
- The effect of sensory deprivation in the reduction of pain in patients with chronic low-back pain