Float Therapy: A New Trend in Integrative Medicine
Maggie A. Smith is a director-at-large for the national Oncology Nursing Society (ONS), as well as nominating-chair and immediate-past president of the Chicago Chapter of ONS. Her clinical and research interest include being a voice for underrepresented and underserved populations. She is also, involved in community outreach and breast health education.
As oncology nurses we need to be aware of complementary therapies and how they may potentially interact with our conventional therapies.
A new cancer diagnosis or a change in disease status can be frightening to a patient. These changes can be accompanied by anxiety, mood/sleep disturbance, and pain.1 Conventional medicines do not always satisfactorily relieve these symptoms; so, more and more oncology patients are shifting their attention to integrative medicine; a complementary approach where the goal is to work together with conventional medicine to achieve a resolution of these symptoms.1
Float therapy, also known as restricted environment stimulation technique (REST), is gaining popularity in integrative medicine. With this, a person floats in a tank, (also called an isolation tank, float pod, or float pool) located inside a private room where the individual is in a relaxed and restful state.2 Float therapy is commonly used in Europe and is rapidly gaining popularity in the United States.
What is Float Therapy?
In this complementary therapy method, a person floats weightlessly on 10 inches of warm, body-temperature water in which more than 1000 pounds of pharmaceutical-grade Epsom salts are dissolved. Since the Epsom salts keep the body buoyant, the pressure of gravity is taken off the muscles and joints. While floating, the body as a whole is put in a high state of physical relaxation. This therapy is designed to promote calmness and tranquility, eliminate fatigue, improve sleep, and alleviate stress and anxiety, all while energizing, rejuvenating, and revitalizing the mind and body.
How Does Float Therapy Benefit Patients?
Research has shown that patients with cancer experience high levels of depression and anxiety, partially because their diagnoses can be highly comorbid.1 Insomnia and pain are also symptoms experienced by patients throughout various phases of their cancer journey.1 Float therapy has been shown to be effective in combating these symptoms in conjunction with conventional therapies. 1, 3, 4 Float therapy is often used by doctors and practitioners as a holistic regimen to bring balance and return the body back to its internal homeostasis, creating an environment in which the body is relaxed and is self-healing. 1, 3-5
What Do Nurses Need to Know?
As oncology nurses we need to be aware of these complementary therapies and how they may potentially interact with conventional medicine. While float therapy is a noninvasive therapy, it is not for everyone. For example, if oncology patients have a history of uncontrollable seizures, floating may not be the best choice for them. While floating, patients need to be able to follow simple commands in the event of an emergency; clinical staff is not required at float facilities. Also, if a patient recently completed radiation therapy and has skin irritation or underwent surgery and has an open wound, Epsom salts inside of the floating device may further irritate the skin.
Float therapy, as well as many other complementary therapies, are typically not covered by insurance, so encourage patients to reach out to their insurance companies to find out more about their benefits. Lastly, there are ongoing clinical trials looking at the benefit of float therapy as a natural alternative to traditional medication, so stay tuned as this therapy continues to find new applications in the way we treat and manage our oncology patients.
- Deng G, Cassileth B. Integrative Oncology: Complementary therapies for pain, anxiety, and mood disturbance. CA Cancer J Clin. 2005;(55):109-116. doi: 10.3322/canjclin.55.2.109.
- Lilly JC. Mental effects of reduction of ordinary levels of physical stimuli on intact, healthy persons. Psychaitr Rep Am Psychiatr. Assoc. 1956;5:1-9; discussion, 10-28.
- Brown L, Kroenke K, Theobald D, Wu J, Tu W. The association of depression and anxiety with health‐related quality of life in cancer patients with depression and/or pain. Psychooncology. 2010; 19(7): 734—741. doi: 10.1002/pon.1627.
- Johnsson K, Kjellgren A. Promising effects of treatment with flotation-REST (restricted environmental stimulation technique) as an intervention for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): a randomized controlled pilot trial. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2016;(16) 108 doi: 10.1186/s12906-016-1089-x.
- Kjellgren A, Westman J. Beneficial effects of treatment with sensory isolation in flotation-tank as a preventive health-care intervention — a randomized controlled pilot trial. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2014;(14):417. doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-14-417.