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4 Ways Aquatic Therapy Can Help Ease Pain

Have you wanted to become more active, but aren’t able to exercise well due to aches and pains? Gravity takes a toll on our joints during land-based activities and can hinder our ability to perform everyday tasks, such as navigating stairs and walking. If this sounds familiar to you, it may be time to test the waters of aquatic therapy.  

Aquatic therapy is a treatment technique where specific exercises are performed at various depths of water for physical rehabilitation, relaxation, and recovery. It offers a safe environment for you to focus on regaining strength, balance, and range of motion. Treatment sessions can include decompression, gait training, sport specific training, and functional therapeutic exercise in chest/waist deep waters. Spine, arm, and leg injuries can be assisted with aquatic therapy as well.

So, How Will Aquatic Therapy Help You?

The four main principles that allow aquatic therapy to help ease pain during activity are:

  •   Hydrostatic pressure
  •   Buoyancy
  •   Thermal stability
  •   Resistance

Hydrostatic Pressure

Have you ever noticed the slight pressure from water that acts against your body when you enter into a pool? If you have, then you have experienced hydrostatic pressure. This inward pressure from water provides stability to our joints and reduces swelling in our arms and legs, similar to how a compression sleeve may provide a sense of stability and decrease swelling in a knee or ankle (1). When our bodies have a greater sense of stability and decreased swelling, we are able to function at a higher level.


Similar to hydrostatic pressure, buoyancy is a property of water that can make exercise easier in the pool. Buoyancy is responsible for the feeling of weightlessness that can be experienced as you enter deeper into a pool.The upward lift of water decreases the effects of gravity, thereby causing less tension, compression, and stress on our muscles and joints (1). A person standing in waist-deep water will experience a 50% reduction of gravity, while a person who is immersed to their neck in water will experience a 90% decrease in weight (3). The less weight that is placing pressure on injured tissues, the less pain a person may feel during activity.

Thermal Stability

Most public pools are kept between 77-85 degrees F, but did you know that a pool kept between 92-94 degrees F can help soothe muscle spasms and improve blood flow? This principle called thermal stability provides the ideal water range to allow tissue healing (without overheating) and improve functional activity levels in an aquatic therapy setting (1). When our muscles are kept loose and warm, it allows for easier movement from the body and better flow of oxygenated blood to reach our muscles during exercise.


Instead of dumbbells and kettlebells, another way to strengthen is by using water’s resistance. This is because water is 600-700x more resistant than air alone (2). Now, you may ask, how does water’s resistance help ease pain during activity on land? This is because as we become stronger with aquatic exercises, it will have carry-over to our land activities. For example, practicing standing marches in a pool may help strengthen a person’s legs and core muscles enough to begin performing standing marches on land with improved function and less pain.

Overall, aquatic therapy can be a great stepping stone to regain strength on land. If you think aquatic therapy may be for you, talk to your doctor or contact a physical therapist trained in aquatic therapy. Buffalo Rehab Group offers aquatic therapy at our Amherst and Williamsville offices. You can also find aquatic exercise classes offered at town recreational programs throughout WNY and at gyms such as the YMCA Buffalo Niagara and LA Fitness.

If you are interested in aquatic therapy, Buffalo Rehab Group is offering free 20 minute consultations to use aquatic therapy to get your strength back! Click the button below to get scheduled at either of our pool locations (Williamsville or Amherst).  

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Becker, Bruce. Aquatic Therapy: Scientific Foundations and Clinical Rehabilitation Applications. American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2009; 1: 859-872

Hludzinski, Krista. “The Benefits of Aquatic Therapy.” Helen Hayes Hospital. 17 Dec 2013. 2 Nov 2014.

Killian, Sarah. “Benefits of Aquatic Therapy in Rehabilitation.” HSS on the Move. 24 Aug 2012. 2 Nov 2014. http://hss.edu/onthemove/fitness-friday-benefits-of-aquatic-therapy-in-rehabilitation/#.VFg-fPnF98E



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