The Benefits of Aquatic Therapy
One benefit of aquatic therapy is the buoyancy provided by the water. While submerged in water, buoyancy assists in supporting the weight of the patient. This decreases the amount of weight bearing which reduces the force of stress placed on the joints. This aspect of aquatic therapy is especially useful for patients with arthritis,1 healing fractured bones, or who are overweight. By decreasing the amount of joint stress it is easier and less painful to perform exercises.
The viscosity of water provides an excellent source of resistance that can be easily incorporated into an aquatic therapy exercise program. This resistance allows for muscle strengthening without the need for weights. Using resistance coupled with the water’s buoyancy allows a person to strengthen muscle groups with decreased joint stress that can not be experienced on land.
Aquatic therapy also utilizes hydrostatic pressure to decrease swelling and improve joint position awareness. The hydrostatic pressure produces forces perpendicular to the body’s surface. This pressure provides joint positional awareness to the patient. As a result, patient proprioception is improved. This is important for patients who have experienced joint sprains, as when ligaments are torn, our proprioception becomes decreased. The hydrostatic pressure also assists in decreasing joint and soft tissue swelling that results in injury or with arthritic disorders.
Lastly, the warmth of the water experience during aquatic therapy assists in relaxing muscles and vasodilates vessels, increasing blood flow to injured areas. Patients with muscle spasms, back pain, and fibromyalgia find this aspect of aquatic therapy especially therapeutic.
Although aquatic therapy can be helpful, there may be some limitations to it. First, the gains that you make while exercising in the water may not equate to functional gains outside of the water. Walking in water may be easy due to the buoyancy created, but once you exit the pool, you still may have difficulty walking on dry land.
Aquatic therapy may also simply feel good, but the overall effect of the pool therapy may not equal functional and strength gains that are hoped for. You should understand the specific goals that you are looking to achieve when you participate in aquatic therapy.
Am I a Good Candidate for Aquatic Therapy?
It is important to know, however, that aquatic therapy is not for everyone. People with cardiac disease should not participate in aquatic therapy.2 Those who have fevers, infections, or bowel/bladder incontinence are also not candidates for aquatic therapy. Always discuss this with your physician before beginning an aquatic therapy program.
Obviously, if you cannot swim, you should not participate in pool therapy unless your PT is aware of your lack of swimming knowledge and can provide you with full assistance 100% of the time.
If you have an injury or illness that causes a limitation in functional mobility, you may benefit from the skilled services of a physical therapist to help you recover fully. You may benefit from aquatic therapy to help you fully return to your baseline mobility and to get back to your normal activity level.