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Meta Analysis Finds WATSU Improves Pain, Sleep, Relaxation, Physical Function And Mental Issues


WATSU (portmanteau word: water and shiatsu) is a form of passive hydrotherapy in chest-deep thermoneutral water (35°C = 95°F = 308.15 K). It combines elements of myofascial stretching, joint mobilization, massage, and shiatsu and is reported to be used to address physical and mental issues. The objective of this systematic review (PROSPERO Registration No. CRD42016029347) and the meta-analyses was to assess the applications, indications, and the effects of WATSU to form a basis for further studies.


A search for "WATSU OR watershiatsu OR (water AND shiatsu)" was conducted without any restrictions in 32 databases. Peer reviewed original articles addressing WATSU as a stand-alone hydrotherapy were assessed for risk of bias. Quantitative data of effects on pain, physical function, and mental issues were processed in random model meta-analyses with subgroup analyses by study design. Effect sizes were expressed as Hedges's g (± 95% confidence intervals).


Of 1,906 unique citations, 27 articles regardless of study design were assessed for risk of bias. WATSU has been applied to individuals of all ages. Indications covered acute (e.g. pregnancy related low back pain) and chronic conditions (e.g. cerebral palsy) with beneficial effects of WATSU regarding e.g. relaxation or sleep quality. Meta-analyses suggest beneficial effect sizes of WATSU on pain (overall Hedges's g = -0.71, 95% CI = -0.91 to -0.51), physical function (overall Hedges's g = -0.76, 95% CI = -1.08 to -0.44), and mental issues (overall Hedges's g = -0.68, 95% CI = -1.02 to -0.35).


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