Finding Benefit from Aquatic Rehabilitation

We all know how amazing it feels to get into a heated pool and how relaxing it can be on our bodies.

The warm water feels wonderful on our joints, allowing us to move freely. Sure, pools are great for our warm summers, but have you thought about using the pool to decrease pain, improve strength and motion, ultimately maximizing your quality of life?

Many doctors are now including aquatic therapy on their prescriptions for physical therapy. Many patients are unaware that aquatic rehab is even an option for them let alone a huge benefit in their recovery. Whether it’s acute or chronic pain, surgery, rheumatoid symptoms, or a neurological injury, aquatic therapy can be beneficial. Aquatic therapy is used to rehab both athletes and non-athletes alike. Young, old, athletic, tall, or short, you may benefit from being submerged. When pain hides behind every step, bend, stair, and twist it can be difficult to not only exercise, but function. Often, slight alterations to gravity can provide a means to not only move, but also heal an injury. Performing strength exercises that were otherwise painful on land can be pain free in water.

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 and relatively pain free 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.

The properties of water allow for these certain therapeutic advantages.

Hydrostatic Pressure

Hydrostatic pressure, the pressure that the water exerts on your body, allows for increased joint stability and support while also improving heart and lung function. 1 The added pressure also offers benefits for swelling reduction.

Buoyancy

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Another beneficial property of water is buoyancy. As many injuries, particularly lower body are dependent on gravity, buoyancy allows us to cheat gravity. The upward lift of water reduces the effects of gravity causing less tension, compression, and stress on your muscles and joints. 1 Buoyancy provides weightlessness most feel in a pool. Immersion up to your neck will reduce the weight pressing down on your body by 90% where as water up to your waist will reduce the pressure by 50%.3 We’ll often see buoyancy serve a purpose in post-surgical patients who have weight bearing limitations.

Thermal Stability

Warm water is always a plus for rehab. A principle termed thermal stability allows for near constant temperature throughout exercise and rehabilitation. Warm water may even help reduce muscle spasm—enter the infamous hot tub. It’s recommended that a therapy pool be kept around 92-94 degrees which is optimum to maximize therapeutic effect and minimize health risks1; however, most pools will be between 77-85 degrees to accommodate exercise classes and swimmers.

Resistance

Lastly, water acts as a great resistance in place of weights and dumbbells. Water is 600-700 times more resistant that air alone which can maximize strength recovery2.

It is completely understandable for you to be unwilling to participate in an aquatic therapy program despite knowing its numerous benefits. Your doctor and your physical therapist will create the best program that fits your needs. This can include all aquatic therapy or part aquatic and part land therapy. Of course it is not for everyone and certain factors have to be considered when including aquatic therapy as part of your program. In the end, we’re not fish. We need to function on land; however, an aquatic program can be the missing piece of those looking to stay active without “paying for it later” or for those who are simply unable to participate in land therapy due to restrictions or severity of symptoms.

Most patients are hesitant to begin an aquatic program. Their uncertainty often stems from the ease and free motion water can provide. You need to revoke no pain no gain mentality. The pool is a great stepping stone to functioning painfree on land. For the right individual, aquatic therapy is the best of both worlds- less pain during your rehab program and maximal functional recovery.

The next time your doctor or PT recommends aquatic therapy do not brush it off as a conservative, wasting your time kind of treatment. It’s fun, enjoyable, and as long as you wear something we don’t care what you wear! Two Buffalo Rehab locations currently offer aquatic therapy: East Amherst and Williamsville. For group classes, check out the YMCA Buffalo Niagara.

References:

1. Becker, Bruce. Aquatic Therapy: Scientific Foundations and Clinical Rehabilitation Applications. American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2009; 1: 859-872.
2. Hludzinski, Krista. “The Benefits of Aquatic Therapy.” Helen Hayes Hospital. 17 Dec 2013. 2 Nov 2014. http://www.helenhayeshospital.org/physical-rehab-blog/the-benefits-of-aquatic-therapy/.
3. 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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