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Hot Radioactive Mineral Water Springs of Ikaria

Hot Radioactive Mineral Water Springs of Ikaria

Written by Francesco Frantzis
Ikarian Physiotherapist - Ikaria
Clinic Tel. (+30)-22750-22665


When we speak of CURATIVE SPA THERAPY we mean the application of medicinal waters for the treatment of people. This type of treatment constitutes a part of physiotherapy, that is to say the use of natural means in therapy.


History of curative spa-therapy and Greek curative springs

The history of curative springs begins in ancient Greece. The first observer of these springs with curative properties was the historian Herodotus (484-410 B.C.) He described certain curative springs and, acting like a doctor,recommended spa therapy to be undertaken at particular seasons of the year for 21 days on end.

Hippocrates od Cos (460-375 B.C.),who is considered the founder of medical science and the father of hydrotherapy, paid great attention to the different natural waters which exist in marches and lakes, which are formed by rain and those which well out of rocks, namely mineral waters. These, he says, gush out and certain iron, copper,silver,gold,sulfur and other mineral elements.
Apart from the different well-known references in the Holy Bible, in the Roman era and the Byzantine times many doctors studied hydrotherapy and curative spa-therapy. Such were Herophilos, Erasistratos, Asclepiades, Agathinos, Galenos,Oreibasios, Paul the Aeginetan and others.

All these doctors accepted the curative influence of certain natural springs. One student in particular of Agathinos in the first century a.d. wrote about the therapeutic properties of curative springs and said that it was not possible to define precisely the manner in which each one of the springs individually develops its therapeutic properties, because that would require many years of observation and experimentation. This has held good until even the present day.

Well known Roman spas remain as historical monuments of architecture throughout Europe and also in Greece.
Curative Spa-therapy has been finding wider application over the last two centuries. In many countries in Europe (Germany, Austria, France, Italy, Hungary,the Czech Republic, and Slovakia) new spa-therapy centers have been constructed which have superseded the old Roman baths. After the Second World War there were improvements or even new establishments whose operation was harmonized with modern medical approaches for the benefit of curative spa-therapy.

The chemical analysis of spring water started to be undertaken in liberated Greece from the era of Capodistrias and Otto (1830-1833). The beginning of spa organization occurred at the start of our era. In 1918, for the first time,a special department of curative springs was formed in what was then the Ministry of National Economy. In 1936 the curative springs of our country came under the responsibility of the then Sub-ministry of the Press and Tourism. In 1945 they moved to the General Secretariat of Tourism and from 1950 to the present day have been classified under the responsibilities of the Greek Tourist Organization(EOT), which was established in that year as a branch of the Ministry of the Presidency of the Republic.

Geographical distribution - Origin of curative mineral springs from tectonic fissures in the region and from it's volcanity

Most mineral waters in Greece appear in coastal terrain along the shoreline. 5/6 of the springs are by the sea. The definitive morphological configuration presented nowadays by Greece is a consequence of the great subsidence which occurred in the whole geographical region. Within the tectonic fissures which also provoked the great subsidences were created the conditions for the formation of most curative mineral springs. These waters, which follow the orientation of tectonic fissures, because of the great depth from which they proceed are,as a rule, hyperthermal with temperatures above 38C. The current towards the surface is swift and for this reason they do not suffer great losses in their egress.

Coastal fissures create mineral springs such as the springs of the Corinth region, the Western Peloponnese, Euboean, Maliakos, Eastern Macedonia, Western Thrace and the Eastern Aegean. Among coastal curative springs which issue from great depths are classified those of Icaria, Lesbos and Samothrace. Moreover, the springs of New Apollonia at Langada are found in fissures which also form the lakes of Langada and Volvi.

Finally, the fissures of Euboean Maliakos on each side form the curative springs of Aedipsos and Kammena Vourla. The springs of Ypati are not dependent on these fissures but on the volcanicity of the area. Likewise, other mineral springs, like those of Milos and Santorini, owe their existence to the presence of volcanoes which also characterize the area. The volcanicity in the region contributes to the enrichment of the waters and to the increase in their temperature.

Categories of curative springs

Saltwater springs

True saltwater springs issue from sea water and for this reason are richer in sodium chloride than all the other mineral springs. It is worth noting that, owing to their marine provenance, these waters are an inexhaustible source of bulk water. In their underground passage towards the surface they acquire constituents of rocks and derive their characteristics, such as a) the sulfurous saltwater springs of Methana, b) the ferrous springs of Thermi and c) the radioactive springs of Thermae and Agios Kirikos in Icaria.

Sulphurated hydrogen springs

They do not present any special enrichment in solid constituents. These springs include simply sodium hydrosulphide and plain hydrogen sulphide and are hyperthermal.

Sodium chloride springs

Most sodium chloride springs are coastal and a large percentage of the volume of water which they pour out derives from seawater. Such are the springs of Agios Nicolas at Methana, Vouliagmeni in Attica, Cayafas, Cyllene in the Peloponnese, Cythnos and Loutraki. The calcium and hydrocarbonic acid ion content of the sodium hydrochloride hot mineral springs in relation to seawater is greater.

Alkaline springs

These originate from rainwater. They appear inland far from the coasts. They can be enriched with plain carbonic acid and then they are also named acid springs. Likewise also even with hydrogen sulphide. The temperature of alkaline springs varies from hypothermal to hyperthermal. Hyperthermal can rise to 55C.

Radioactive springs

We call radioactive those springs which have been measured and are from 3,5 μ Mach and above, independently of their chemical composition and temperature. They are sub-divided into those of low, medium and high radioactive content. Most springs in Icaria are hyperthermal radioactive saltwater springs of high and medium radioactive content. With low radioactive content are the springs of Lefkada and the Cave spring.

Simple acid springs

Mineral waters of the class of acid springs have an appreciable sourish taste. These springs consist of plain carbon dioxide and salts in solution.

Sulfur springs

So named because they contain increased quantities of sulfur salt in their composition. They are subdivided according to the type of dominant constituents in solution. So we have
a) sulfurous saltwater springs
b) hydrosulphoride springs and,
c) alkaline sulfur springs.

Characteristics and properties of the curative radioactive springs of Icaria

It is well known that man from ancient times applied spa therapy for curative purposes to waters whose temperature and chemical composition differed from ordinary waters.
The characteristics of the curative springs of Icaria are as follows:
a. The increased temperature of the water.
b. Their much greater content of solid constituents in solution.
c. Their considerable content of rare or even pharmacologically efficacious constituents, such as radium, sulfur, sodium chloride etc.

Among the constituents which enrich the springs are also included gases such as:
a. oxygen
b. carbon dioxide
c. hydrogen sulphide
d. radon
e. nitrogen

The increased content in the springs of solid substances in solution is due to a great extent to the increased temperature which they possess and to the composition of the lithological subsoil of the area. Their enrichment in salts, in gases, as also in radioactive elements(radium,radon) constitutes, together with the high temperature, factors which add to the water's therapeutic properties,and so they are called "curative."

The springs of Icaria belong to the category of saltwater springs. They derive from waters which issue from tectonic fissures and from a great depth. The radium enriches the waters of the spring since, while proceeding to the surface, they encounter and come into contact with rocks in which exist radioactive minerals, albeit in small quantities

In the region of hot, radioactive mineral springs of Agios Kirykos there are hypothermal mineral-bearing deposits whose creation is connected with the Grandiorite of the village of Xylosyrte. These deposits are lemonites within the marbles of the region of Agios Kirykos and quartz veins with iron and copper pyrites. The possibility is not ruled out that the presence of otunite minerals might exist within the compacted outgrowths of the Graniodiorite of the village of Xylosyrte in the region of the curative springs of Thermae in Icaria.

To the presence of these minerals is due also the radioactivity of the springs of Icaria. The springs of Thermae and Agios Kirykos occupy a special place worldwide amongst the remaining curative springs owing to their important and beneficial action in the constitution of radon.

As the temperature of the spring water increases, the gaseous radon increases simultaneously, while the radium dissolved in the water diminishes. The radon enters the organism by being breathed into the lungs. A smaller percentage does so through swellings and perspiration, and finally this has a benign influence on the human psychism. Moreover with hyperthermal spas there is established an increase in sulfur, in radon, and in trace elements in the blood, in the bone marrow, the arthric cartilage, and the arthric fluid.

Radioactive elements like thorium and actinium, which are found in curative springs, albeit in small quantity, exercise therapeutic action, chiefly on the lymphatic system, the glands and the blood. The lifespan of radon is very short. It is quickly expelled from the organism: 80% is expelled in the first hour after bathing through the lungs and exhalation. The remaining 20% is expelled in 24 hours through perspiration from the skin pores, as also by dieresis. Because of its rapid excretion from the organism there is no danger of accumulation in the human body.

The influence of the thermal and subconcious factor in springs

Spa therapy for chronic complaints in curative springs, apart from the beneficial effects of radon and the enriched chemical elements of springs, is based also on the following properties of curative water.

1. The thermal factor
2. The subconscious stimulant.

To have effect, the thermal factor, the temperature of the water has to be 34°C or higher. Most springs of Icaria are above 38°C.
The thermal factor acts in many ways: Namely, the straining of vessels,hyperemia, local perspiration relaxation of the muscles, improvement in the exchange of nutritious substances, and analgesia. At temperatures above 40°C there is absorption of fluid in the joints and penetration of mineral and radioactive elements which are beneficial in the treatment of various complaints.

As for the subconscious factor, its action is based on the laws of Archimedes which refer to elevation and to hydrostatic pressure. In water the human body becomes lighter, movements easier, muscle relaxation sets in, absorption of swellings and perspiration, and finally this has a benign influence on the human psychism.

Units of measurements of the radioactive springs of Icaria

The mineral waters of Greece are almost all at present also radioactive. It constitutes a rare exception for a mineral spring not to show weak radioactivity. However, it is not any degree whatsoever of radioactivity which is enough to characterize a spring as radioactive. The radioactivity must be significant for it to be characterized as a curative spring. The radioactivity of mineral springs is measured in Mache units. One Mache unit is equal to 0,364 MμC per kilogram of water.
In the links below appear the units of measurement of the different constituent elements in springs which are used for curative treatment.

1.     Apollo Spring
2.     Lefkada Spring
3.     Mustafa Spring
4.     The Cave Spring
5.     Kratsas Spring

Therapeutic indications of spa therapy in complaints which benefit from radioactive hot mineral springs of Ikaria

The curative spa therapy at the springs of Ikaria is applied to a large number of illnesses of most systems (muscle fabric, skin, respiratory, peptic, circulatory, and kidney).

Neural Gia-Neuritis

Radon has an immediate effect on the nervous system and simultaneously has a sedative and anti-inflammatory effect on complaints like lumbago, sciatica, omobrachionic neuralgia, triple neuralgia, and neuritis generally. This is due to the special affinity which radon has with the faulty substances of the nervous system. Moreover, complaints of the nervous system can benefit, such as Parkinson's, chorea, poliomyelitis, etc..

Acute and chronic arthropathy

More generally the springs of Ikaria are considered suitable for the treatment of chronic degenerative arthropathy and rheumatological arthropathy. Warm radioactive spas effect the reduction of swelling and inflammation of the joints, and of the pain which is very often chronic.
Also they contribute to the reduction of stiffness of the joints and muscles in complaints like rheumatoid arthritis, anchylopoietic arthritis, arthritis of the shoulder, knee, and hip, and in complaints of the tendons and the arthric orogonic pockets.

Skin complaints

In complaints like a) adolescent acne, b) eczema, c) itching, d) psoriasis and e) dermatological allergies.
The effected region shows hyperemia and improved circulation with radioactive spas. Radon and toning up of the skin with trace elements and salts contribute to the desensitization of allergic factors which also provoke skin complaints.

Respiratory complaints

Radon enters the organism chiefly through the lungs and exercises a direct influence on them. Beneficial influence for allergic disorders of the upper respiratory system and inflammatory complaints like chronic bronchitis, chronic pulmonary emphysema, asthmatic conditions, chronic rhinitis, pharyngitis and laryngitis are positively effected by the presence of radon. Radioactive waters have good effects in more general treatment undergone by individuals with respiratory complaints.


This form of arthritis differs from rheumatoid or any other form of arthritis. In this complaint uric acid in the blood count is high, the joints burn and show gradual arthritic and conjuctional alterations. The radon in the curative springs of Icaria influences the increase in the metabolism of pourinon with solvent action on the uric acid, with the result that it is eliminated from the organism through dieresis, which is increased with spas with radioactive waters, as also even through the pores of increased perspiration.

Gynecological complaints

The existence of small quantities of estrogen compounds in the curative springs of the Thermae cave and of Ascepion has a positive effect on complaints which are due to hormonal disorders like: a) infertility, and b) osteoporosis.
The influence of radon has an anti-inflammatory effect on complaints like salpingitis, trachilitis, and fallopian infertility, which is a result of the forgoing inflammation. Moreover, the action of radon on the ovaries as glands results in assistance to their even functioning and the regulation of periodic disorders.

Post-traumatic and post-surgical complaints

Spa-therapy with warm radioactive waters has good effect on residual pains and stiffness, on fractures, sprains, dislocations, and raptures of the muscles. Post - surgical cases of the system of muscle fabric can be assisted and enjoy a more rapid and full recovery through curative spa therapy.

Chronic fatigue strain

It is scientifically established that curative spas which are also rich in trace elements, salts and other compounds beneficial to the organism play an important role in the revitalization of the constitution, in easing and relaxing it from chronic fatigue.

The trend in the whole of Europe is in favor of curative "Health Spa" centers. Young, working people enjoy the salutary effects of curative springs. The contemporary working people with their daily duties and tasks recover with the rest-cure treatment their mental and physical equilibrium and well-being. Such a 10-20 day program with hot spas, steam baths, massage and therapeutic gymnastics is demonstrated to be able to forestall cardiac complaints, bad circulation in the lower extremities, and complaints of the system of muscle fabric.
The baths at curative springs, when they aim at the well-being and relaxation of the constitution, should take place for a shorter period of 10-12 days, and a shorter treatment time of 8-12 minutes in the curative water.

How curative baths should be practiced

To have a salutary effect, radioactive baths should take place in compliance with certain precautionary guidelines. Essential is the doctor's examination and the accurate execution of his instructions. The spring, the temperature and the duration of the bath are determined by the patient's doctor in accordance with the complaint which he has and with the more general state of health of each bather.

In any case, the temperature must not be very high, and the duration of the bath up to 20 minutes. Special exercises for each complaint and part of the body, should be taken, even in the water, to reduce stiffness of the joints and to invigorate the muscles. Adult individuals during the bath should place cold compresses on their heads to reduce the hyperemia in the brain. Spa therapy should not be undergone with a full stomach. It should be one or two hours after breakfast, or a light meal, or four to six hours after a full midday meal.

Spa reaction

The third or fifth day after the beginning of spa therapy produces a disagreeable condition which is called "Spa Reaction." Its intensity and duration differ for each bather. This reaction may bring pains to parts of the body which did not hurt before.

The pains in the affected area can become more intense, as also the arthric oedema(swelling) increases. Exhaustion, discomfort and itching can coincide with symptoms of loss of appetite, headache, and insomnia. When bathers discover any of these symptoms in intense forms, they should take a break from bathing for one day and continue their program afterwards.

Usually it requires a long period of treatment with rest periods between baths. Some patients expect spectacular results from a few visits to curative springs. Patients who suffer from one year of degenerative arthritis (of the hip, knee etc), or from one year of rheumatoid arthritis, should realize that they should not aggravate the affected joint with movement in their everyday activities. Also, they should realize what positions and movements alleviate and affect positively the joint which troubles them.

The combination of daily measures, like pharmacy or physiotherapy, for the treatment of complaints in spa therapy, with the systematic attempt of the patient to follow prescribed programs of dieting, gymnastics, or any other medical recommendation, are the factors which conduce to these chronic complaints reaching a satisfactory outcome.

Contra-indications of spa therapy

Curative therapy produces contra-indications in patients with serious problems.

    * Of the heart which are accompanied by swelling of the lower extremities
    * Of advanced arteriosclerosis
    * With recent brain malfunctions
    * Coronary deficiency (heartburn, heart attack)
    * Hemorrhages of various organs
    * Serious forms of diabetes
    * Malignant growths
    * Active tuberculosis
    * So also rheumatic complaints, arthritis, and neuralgia, when at the acute active stage of the disease
    * Finally complaints of the respiratory system at an acute phase.

Curative tourism health centers in Europe and Greece

Many centers with curative spas function today throughout Europe, and specifically in Germany, France Switzerland, Italy, Greece, Russia, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. In the Mediterranean area, apart from Greece, Italy and Spain, curative tourism and health tourism has developed in Israel, Tunisia, Cyprus and Morocco.

In Russia one in three Russians visit curative spa health centers. In Germany, which has 250-300 curative tourism health centers, in the year 1988 a figure of seven million individuals visited these centers. In Italy in the same year, with 200 centers of curative tourism, six million visited them.
Hungary which is considered one of the most developed countries in this sector, has 120 centers of curative tourism with full furnishing and infrastructure. The 22% of foreign visitors to the country have these centers as their destination.

In Greece the therapeutic properties of certain springs like those of Ikaria, Aedipsos and others, were known from antiquity. Nowadays the greatest percentage of bathers in Greek spas are in August and September. From estimates it is evident that throughout the whole six-month period of May to October, when usually all the great spas in Greece are in service, an average of 40% of the bathings were carried out in the month of September in the year 1995. For the remainder there were 32% in the month of July, 5% in October, and scarcely 3% in June, while in the month of May the equivalent percentage is low. As far as age and the gender of the bathers is concerned, it is observed that usually they are individuals of manhood age, and women make up the greater percentage(approx.60-65%). The number of people each year who make use of curative springs as therapy for various complaints is equivalent to 1.5% of the population of Greece.

The average stay of visiting summer bathers is around 15-20 days, as long infact as one complete program of spa therapy lasts. Most curative springs in Greece combine mountain and sea, and a warm climate for most months of the year. For these reasons it is possible for the visitor to use them both as a means of relaxation, invigoration and renewal, and as a means of treatment, combining simultaneously the need for holidays and therapy.


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