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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the division of medical science that studies the origin and physicochemical properties of mineral waters, methods of using them externally and internally for therapeutic and prophylactic purposes, and medical indications and contraindications for their application.

Sometimes pelotherapy (treatment with therapeutic mud and mud therapy) and thalassotherapy (the study of sea bathing) are incorrectly included under balneology. According to the classification adopted in the USSR, balneology, balneotherapy, and climatotherapy are considered parts of health resort science. Balneology includes balneotherapy, balneotechnics, and balneography (the description of health resorts). Balneology is closely related to other disciplines such as physical therapy, hydrogeology, meteorology, physics, chemistry, biology, physiology, clinical medicine, and architecture.

The rudiments of balneology appeared as early as the fifth century B. C., when the ancient Greek scholar Herodotus called attention to methods of application and indications for the prescription of mineral waters. Mention is made of the therapeutic properties of river, salt, and sea waters in the writings of Hippocrates (fifth to fourth centuries B. C.). The first classification of mineral waters was made by the Roman doctor Archigenes (first century A.D.). In the 15th century the Italian monk G. Savonarola wrote his “Treatise on Italian Mineral Waters,” which contained instructions on the use of mineral baths. In the 16th century the lectures of the Italian doctor G. Fallopio, “Seven Books About Warm Waters,” were published. In his lectures Fallopio attempted, among other things, to analyze the chemical composition of mineral waters. The German scientist F. Hoffmann, who was the first to determine the chemical composition of mineral waters and the presence in them of carbonate, sodium chloride, magnesium sulfate, and other compounds, laid the foundation for scientific balneology in the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1822 the Swedish chemist J. J. Berzelius made an exact chemical analysis of the mineral springs at Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad) and worked out scientific methods for analyzing the composition of mineral waters. Subsequently, in connection with the development of the natural sciences and medicine, balneology began to develop rapidly and became a broad field of theoretical and practical medicine.

The first information about the development of balneology in Russia is connected with the names of G. Schober, I. A. Güldenstädt, P. S. Pallas, and others (18th century). In 1825 the work of the Russian chemist G. I. Gess, who had studied the chemical composition and effect of medicinal waters in Russia, was published. The development of balneology in Russia was influenced by S. P. Botkin and especially by G. A. Zakhar’in. The foundation of the Russian Balneological Society in 1863 at the Caucasus mineral waters on the initiative of Dr. S. A. Smirnov played an important role in the study of medicinal mineral waters. After the October Revolution balneology developed considerably in connection with the scale of sanatorium construction and the needs of sanatoriums and health resorts. Common principles were established for the comprehensive evaluation of the chemical composition and physical properties of mineral waters. The classification of medicinal mineral waters that is used abroad was improved by V. A. Aleksandrov in 1932 and was subsequently revised by V. V. Ivanov and G. A. Nevraev on the basis of achievements in balneology and hydrogeology. All the best-known mineral waters were reduced to common types; seven basic balneological groups of mineral waters were distinguished and divided into subgroups on the basis of their gas composition and into classes according to their anionic and cationic composition and their general mineralization. This classification was adopted by the Fourth Coordinating Meeting of Institutes of Balneology and Climatology in Krynica, Polish People’s Republic, in 1965.

The development of physics, chemistry, biology, biophysics, and biochemistry has made it possible to understand more fully the effect of balneological procedures on the processes occurring in the organism and on the functions of particular organs and systems. Soviet scientists have obtained new data on the composition of mineral waters and on the presence in them of organic substances and numerous, diverse microflora. The physiological and balneological effects of these elements in mineral waters that are taken have been studied in detail. Applied externally, mineral water acts directly on the skin and changes its permeability. Experimental research has demonstrated the permeability of the skin to carbon dioxide and other gases. Used internally, mineral water acts through its temperature and its mineral and gas content on the mucous membrane of various parts of the gastrointestinal tract; this explains the varying effect of the use of mineral water. When it is drunk, mineral water undergoes changes and causes changes in the acid-base balance in colloidal systems of the organism. The combination of unconditioned reflexes stimulated by the mineral water and conditioned reflexes stimulated by the environment is very important.

In the USSR the study of problems of balneology has been carried on primarily at research institutes of health resort science and physical therapy, such as those in the Azerbaijan SSR (Baku), Armenian SSR (Yerevan), Georgian SSR (Tbilisi; branches in Cchaltubo and Sukhumi), Kirghiz SSR (Frunze), Odessa, Piatigorsk, Sochinsk, Tomsk, and Uzbek SSR (Tashkent). General scientific direction of the working out of balneological problems is exercised by the Central Institute of Health Resort Science and Physical Therapy of the Ministry of Public Health of the USSR. Balneological problems are also studied at some subdepartments of medical institutes (Voronezh, Karaganda, and others) and institutes for advanced training of physicians (Kiev, Kharkov, and others) and at health resort sectors of the institutes of experimental and clinical medicine in the Estonian SSR and Lithuanian SSR.

Scientific research in the field of balneology has also expanded significantly in other countries; now in operation are the Institute of Balneology and Health Resort Science at the health resort in Bad Elster (German Democratic Republic); Health Resort Science and Physical Therapy in Sofia (Bulgaria); the Institute of Rheumatism and Balneology in Budapest (Hungary); the Balneoclimatology Institute in Poznań (Poland); the Physical Therapy Institute, which is part of the Central Scientific Research Institute of Experimental Therapy in Prague; the Balneological Institute in Mariánské Lázné; and the Institute of Human Bioclimatolo-gy in Bratislava (Czechoslovakia). There is a balneological institute at the University of Munich in the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG).

In 1965 an All-Union Congress of Health Resort Scientists and Physical Therapists was held in the USSR in Baku. At the congress there was a discussion of current organizational and theoretical problems of balneology, health resort science, and physical therapy in the USSR and of the use of natural and transformed physical factors for the prevention and treatment of arteriosclerosis, rheumatism, vascular diseases, diseases of the peripheral nervous system, and others.

Meetings and symposia are called regularly to coordinate scientific research on balneology, health resort science, and physical therapy in socialist countries. Such coordinating meetings have been held in Moscow, Mariánské Lázně, Poznań, Budapest, and Bad Elster. Meetings on particular problems of balneology and climatology are also held, with participation by representatives of institutes in socialist countries. In 1960 at the International Congress in Frantiŝ-kovy Lázně, Czechoslovakia, current problems of studying peat and other types of medicinal mud, their microbiology, chemistry, physicochemistry, and rational use in treating various illnesses were considered. Problems on the action of balneofactors, indications for health resort therapy, and specialization of health resorts were discussed at the International Congress on Balneology and Medical Climatology held in Baden-Baden (FRG) in 1962. At the International Congress on Thalassotherapy held in Venice, Italy, in 1963, the problems of using sea bathing in the treatment of various diseases (such as cardiovascular and articular diseases) and in gerontology (the study of the aging of the organism) were discussed. The International Symposium on Balneotherapy held in Bulgaria in 1966 considered the problems of treatment with mineral waters for diseases of the joints, the liver, the biliary tract, and the lungs, and tuberculosis of the bones and joints. Current problems of balneology were also discussed at the International Congresses on Physical Medicine (Washington, D. C, 1960; Paris, 1964; Cannes, 1966; and Montreal, 1968) and at the International Congress on Thalassotherapy in Westerland and Kiel (FRG, 1966).

Soviet and foreign scientific societies of health resort scientists, balneologists, and physical therapists play an important role in the development of balneology. Among these societies are the Ail-Union Society of Physical Therapists and Health Resort Scientists; the International Federation of Health Resort Science and Climatology (Switzerland); the International Society of Medical Hydrology and Climatology (Paris); the American Society of Medical Hydrology (Washington, D. C); the International Association of Physical Medicine (London); the Polish Society of Balneocli-matologists (Poznań); the Bulgarian Society of Physical Therapists (Plovdiv); the Jan Purkyně Society of Czechoslovak Doctors (Prague); and the section of physical therapists.

In the USSR balneological problems have been dealt with in the journal Kurortnoe delo (Health Resorts) (1923–28) and others. The journal Voprosy kurortologii, fizioterapii, i lechebnoi fizkul’tury (Problems of Health Resort Science, Physical Therapy, and Therapeutic Physical Culture) has been published since 1955.


Lozinskii, A. A. Lektsii po obshchei bal’neologii. Moscow, 1949.
Kurorty SSSR. Moscow, 1962.
Ivanov, V. V., and G. A. Nevraev. Klassifikatsiia podzemnykh mineral’nykh vod. Moscow, 1964.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.