Aquatic Therapy – Benefits and Basic Overview
Aquatic therapy is physical rehabilitation that is done in a pool of water, usually a heated swimming pool. Hydrotherapy can include water-based exercises but it also can include any use of water to help the body heal or remain healthy.
Aquatic Therapy Benefits
Aquatic therapy uses the properties of water—including warmth, buoyancy, warmth, and turbulence—to increase the speed at which patients heal from trauma or surgeries, to relieve pain and stress, and to reduce muscle spasms. Aquatic therapy allows movement without regular gravity, since the water helps support the body, which means the patient can get a workout for non-injured parts of the body as well.
Aquatic Therapy Participants
- Instructors: The exercise instruction in aquatic therapy the function of licensed physical therapists and their assistants or of athletic trainers who have received special training in aquatic therapy.
- Patients: Patients who receive the most benefit from aquatic therapy include patients who are post-mastectomy or other surgery; women who are pregnant; patients with sports-related injuries; patients with arthritis that has already caused joint damage; people with chronic pain disorders or fibromyalgia; those recovering from joint replacement surgery; patients with chronic back and neck pain; and those with scoliosis.
Aquatic Therapy Warnings
Aquatic therapy may not be right for everyone. Patients with certain types of heart conditions may not be able to participate in healthy rehabilitation in water. People with fevers, active infections, or problems with bladder or bowel control probably should not use aquatic therapy. Before using aquatic therapy, it’s important that the patient be evaluated thoroughly by an experienced healthcare professional to ensure aquatic therapy won’t worsen the patient’s conditions.
Aquatic Therapy Strategies
Most aquatic therapy is performed in water that is at least waist-deep, but other forms of the therapy can be used in deeper or shallower water, depending on the patient’s needs and condition.
- Buoyancy: Buoyancy is the property of water that makes objects tend to float. Weight-bearing is lessened under water, which can be helpful when rehabilitating an injured joint. Patients with arthritis pain and those who are recovering from bone fractures can benefit from the buoyancy of water. Patients who are overweight might find exercising in water to be more comfortable than exercising against gravity. Buoyancy can make it easier for patients to complete necessary exercise motions to rehabilitate their bodies.
- Heat: Aquatic therapy is generally performed in water that has been heated to about 95 degrees. The water becomes a medium to transfer healing warmth to the injured body part. Warm water helps the patient’s muscles relax and encourages blood flow to injured parts of the body. The warmth may be especially therapeutic to patients with muscle spasms and fibromyalgia.
- Resistance: Water provides more resistance than air, which means motions performed under water require more strength. Some forms of aquatic therapy are as effective as weight training, but much lighter weights or no weights at all—just the weight of the patient’s limb—are used. Water resistance along with buoyancy means patients can take stress off an injured joint but still strengthen the muscles around the joint.
- Turbulence: Some aquatic therapy includes moving water in a controllable stream to increase resistance or provide therapeutic “massage” on the affected body part. Aquatic therapy pools that include a current of water can provide additional resistance to help strengthen muscles. Water current also can be used to assist the patient in making motions along with the flow of water, which creates an environment that seems almost weightless.
- Hydrostatic pressure: Water has greater pressure against the body than air, and this pressure—called hydrostatic pressure—can be used to the therapist’s advantage. Patients with limited sensation can sometimes feel the water pressure against their bodies, which helps improve an awareness of their body position (a sense called proprioception). Injured joints can sometimes decrease proprioception. Additionally, hydrostatic pressure tends to compress body tissues, which may help reduce swelling.
Special Aquatic Therapy Types
- Kniepp Therapy: Kneipp therapy is a special type of water therapy often offered in European spas. Sebastian Kneipp (1821-1897), a Dominican priest, believed in the healing power of medicinal plants and water. His therapy focuses on vigorous exercise followed by cold water swims and included a healthy diet.
- Watsu Massage Therapy: Watsu is a type of massage that is performed in the water. The support of the water’s buoyancy helps to decrease stress on the patient’s joints, which may be useful in patients with arthritis or other joint diseases. In watsu massage therapy, the massage therapist may support the patient’s entire weight in the water and move the body slowly back and forth, encouraging deep relaxation. Watsu therapy has been used to relieve pain, decrease muscle tension and spasms, and improve the range of motion in joints.
The information on this site it intended for general inquiry and informational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you think you, or those under your care, are ill or in need of health care, please seek immediate medical attention. Always consult a doctor or other competent licensed clinical for specific advice about medical treatments for yourself or those under your care. Any use of, or reliance in any way upon, the information contained in the AlternativZ site and/or accessed through this site is solely at your own risk.
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