Medical Uses for Floatation Therapy
Author Colin Stanwell-Smith C.Eng
What is Floatation therapy?
One or more sessions of floatation, usually for sixty minutes, in a purpose
built float tank containing Epsom salt solution at 35.4 degrees Celsius. The
solution’s relative density is 1.25 making it impossible not to float,
usually supine (except for pregnant women see below). The temperature is
correct for maintaining body temperature without muscular action and there is
no postural requirement either, so a profound state of relaxation is achieved
within 15 to 20 minutes. Endorphins are released encouraging a feeling of
well being. Blood flow in capillaries and soft tissue is maximised. Muscles
in spasm tend to release. Because there is no contact pressure it is possible
to float for many hours without any impulse to turn, even in deep sleep.
Floatation has been academically studied extensively since about 1975, particularly
and currently in Sweden,
Apart from general relaxation, floatation therapy has been shown both
anectotally and in controlled studies to reduce or eliminate acute pain. The
pain relief can be permanent after one session. The reduction of chronic pain
lasts for several hours and a reduced need for analgesia. Other benefits
include lessening of oedema, increased range of movement in skeletal joints
and lower percieved levels of stress. It also appears to help in anger
management and PMT, reduce feelings of fatigue and insomnia, lower blood
pressure and assist in weight control (in conjunction with talking
New information about the benefits of magnesium sulphate (Epsom salts) click
Floating in pregnancy
Mid term pregnant women often find considerable relief from pain and
stiffness, particularly while floating prone, with elbows on the floor of the
tank and chin cupped in hands. In this position the fetus is fully floating
and the mother’s back and pelvic girdle are released from load.
In general mental illness including clinical depression is a
contra-indication because the effects of floating are unpredictable in these
cases. Obviously patients with open wounds or incontinence are unsuitable
candidates. Patients with severe hypertension may experience such drastic
reduction in blood pressure as to faint but when this is controlled by a drug
regime, there is little risk. Similarly there is little risk for controlled epileptic
patients, but it is recommended to have a suitable helper present during the
Further information can be found on www.floataway.com and
The following is reproduced from notes by the Swedish Research Council
Relaxation in a flotation tank brings peace and quiet, increased well-being,
and reduced pain
A new dissertation shows that relaxation in a flotation tank can serve as an
alternative form of treatment to reduce stress or relieve persistent pain,
and it has no side-effects whatsoever.
In times like these, we are surrounded by stress and troubled by burn-out.
Stress seems to retain its place as the greatest enemy to good health,
well-being, and self-esteem. A major international field of research is now
focusing on neurogenesis, that is, the generation of new nerve cells. This is
against the background of our losing an estimated several thousand nerve
cells per day. It has been known for the last few years that the formation of
new nerve cells is constant. The latest findings about neurogenesis indicate
that stress blocks the new formation of nerve cells and that relaxation,
regular exercise, and an interesting environment increase and optimize the
capacity for this. In most studies that have appeared, increased neurogenesis
has been related to enhanced creative and intellectual performance.
To lie on your back and float in a tank filled with salt water induces
extremely deep and pleasurable relaxation. It is dark and quiet in the tank,
which enables maximum relaxation and well-being. To sink into deep
relaxation, 45 minutes is a suitable length of time in the tank.
Patients with chronic muscle flexing pains in their neck who have been
regularly treated with flotation-tank relaxation for three weeks experience a
reduction in pain. After this treatment they also feel much happier and have
less anxiety, alongside finding it easier to get to sleep at night. Blood
samples taken before and after this period of treatment indicate that the
count of stress-related hormones (MHPG) has declined. These studies have been
carried out at the Human Performance Laboratory, Department of Psychology, Karlstad
People in pain are not the only ones who can benefit from floating in a tank.
Anyone looking for an environment that can help reduce stress or lend a
moment of pleasant relaxation will find this technique helpful. It has been
shown that after treatment in the flotation tank, subjects experience greater
creativity: the number of new and original thoughts increases after a session
in the tank. It has also been experienced as beneficial to spend some time by
oneself in peace and quiet, perhaps to think thoughts or experience feelings
that are crowded out of stressful everyday consciousness. Many people
experience that they attain a pleasant state between dreaming and waking or a
state of daydreaming and fantasy.
Almost everyone who has tried floating in a tank thinks that it is pleasant
and agreeable, and they want to do it again. Problems associated with the
fear of feeling closed in are extremely slight. For those who might be
concerned about this, there is the possibility of leaving a light on in the
tank or of having the door to the tank remain partly or fully open during the
session. The knowledge that you can get up and leave any time probably also
helps create a feeling of security.
Taken altogether, this raises hopes that relaxation in a flotation tank can
become an alternative form of treatment to reduce stress or alleviate chronic
pain, with the help of a method that is safe and entirely without
side-effects. If the flotation tank reduces stress, then this must have major
consequences for the rejuvenation of nerve cells in those parts of the brain
(hippocampus) that are primarily associated with health and intellectual
Author of dissertation:
Title of dissertation:
The experience of flotation–REST (Restricted environmental stimulation
technique):Consciousness, subjective stress and pain
Doctoral dissertation at Göteborg University 2003
Department of Psychology, Göteborg University,
The purpose of the presented investigations was to study the influence and
effects of altered states of consciousness (ASC) induced through the
flotation tank restricted environmental stimulation technique
(flotation-REST) in a laboratory setting. The results from the present
investigations indicate that flotation-REST may offer a safe and practical
method of inducing altered states of consciousness in a controlled laboratory
Throughout, flotation-REST was experienced as a positive event by the
participants. In order to optimize the conditions of flotation-REST, possible
differences in the type of experiences due to different settings
(strict/fantasy) applied in the laboratory were examined; no such differences
were obtained. Nor were experiences in the flotation tank affected by
participants' earlier experiences of altered states of consciousness. Mental
experiences reported from flotation-REST include deep relaxation, experiences
of leaving or losing contact with the body, visual and auditory
pseudo-hallucinations and transpersonal experiences.
Comparisons between chamber-REST and flotation-REST indicated that the
flotation-REST group experienced a significantly higher degree of ASC as
compared to the chamber-REST group.
The instrument, EDN-scale, was developed to allow these measures.
Investigations of creativity indicated that flotation-REST induced more
originality and impaired deductive thinking, in comparison to chamber-REST.
Chamber-REST induced more realistic and elaborated thinking compared to
flotation-REST. Comparison of these two conditions indicated that both
flotation-REST and chamber-REST were equally effective in reducing
subjectively experienced stress.
An experimental pain procedure was arranged in order to study the experience
of pain in connection with individuals experiencing ASC (induced by
flotation-REST). A higher level of pain and stress was obtained in those
individuals with high ASC in the flotation-group compared with those with low
ASC (as measured with the EDN-scale). The individuals presenting high ASC
also experienced duration of experimental pain as shorter compared with low
ASC individuals, within the flotation-REST condition.
Within the chamber-REST condition, there were no differences between the low
ASC and high ASC individuals. To study the possible pain-alleviating effects
of flotation-REST upon existing, chronic pain, a series of flotation-REST
treatments over a three-week period was carried out. It was found that the
participants most severe perceived pain intensity was significantly reduced,
whereas low perceived pain intensity was not influenced by the floating
technique. Further, the results indicated that the circulating levels of
noradrenaline metabolite MHPG (3-methoxy-4-hydroxy-phenylethyleneglycol) were
reduced significantly in the experimental group but not in the control group
following treatment, whereas endorphin levels were not affected by flotation.
Flotatation-REST treatment also elevated the participants' optimism and
reduced the degree of anxiety or depression; at nighttime, patients who
underwent flotation fell asleep more easily.
These findings describe possible alleviations in patients presenting with
chronic pain complaints. Taken together, these studies on the flotation-REST
technique offer a promising avenue of future research on stress reduction,
pain treatment and personal development, hopefully elucidating regional brain
implicit and explicit processes.
A and Peter Duedfeld. “REST Therapy in a Weight Reduction Program”
Journal of Behavioural Medicine vol3 1980 pp 147-161
“Reduction of Serum Cholesterol and Blood Pressure in Hypertensive Patients
by Behavioural Modification”
Journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners vol 26 (1976)
Suedfeld, P and Borrie, R A
“Health and Therapeutic Applications of Chamber and Flotation Restricted
Environmental Stimulation Therapy (REST)"
(1999) 14 545-566