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Physical Therapy Benefits: Aquatic Therapy
Aquatic physical therapy is a gentle and effective modality to treat and manage many common symptoms and health conditions. This form of physical therapy takes place in a pool or other water environment and is often used in conjunction with land-based therapies for the treatment, management, and recovery of various conditions. In this article, we will explore the benefits of aquatic therapy and the conditions it commonly treats.
What is Aquatic Therapy?
Aquatic therapy is a safe and effective form of physical therapy utilizing evidence-based techniques to help patients move and feel better. It takes place under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist and follows a custom treatment plan based on the patient’s physical abilities and goals. It is recommended instead of or in conjunction with traditional physical therapy for patients whose symptoms and abilities necessitate a gentle, supportive exercise environment.
Benefits of Aquatic Therapy
- Buoyancy Helps Reduce Impact
Water reduces nearly 90% of body weight, making it ideal for anyone with a musculoskeletal condition or injury that would make landing on a hard surface unsafe or painful. The buoyancy reduces the load on weight-bearing muscles, bones, and joints.
- Low-Impact Environment Increases Muscle Strength
Because water is denser than air, it takes more effort to perform the same exercise in water than on land. This allows patients to increase muscle strength as they push against the water in a low-impact environment that will not stress vulnerable bones and tissues.
- Increases Aerobic Capacity and Reduces Risk of Heart Disease
Exercise increases aerobic capacity and breathing, which is good for overall health. Aerobic exercise can reduce the risk of coronary artery disease and help maintain healthy blood pressure. This is good for patients who need aerobic activity but have pain and mobility issues that make land-based exercise challenging.
- Improves Joint Mobility and Range of Motion
Water is conducive to a greater range of motion in otherwise stiff joints. Warm water relaxes muscles, which offloads tension from joints, allowing them to move more comfortably. Movement is medicine for individuals with arthritis and other joint conditions, making aquatic therapy a viable option for safe and gentle exercise.
- Hydrostatic Pressure Improves Circulation and Reduces Swelling
Hydrostatic pressure is pressure exerted by any type of fluid in a confined space. During aquatic physical therapy, water exerts hydrostatic pressure on the body. That pressure increases circulation and reduces swelling, which in turn reduces joint stiffness and increases mobility.
- Improves Coordination and Balance
Water slows down movement and stops falls, giving patients time to regain their posture if they get off balance. Research shows that as older patients improve balance and recovery, they become less fearful of falling and more confident during activity. Aquatic therapy can help patients improve coordination and balance to reduce their risk of falls outside of the pool.
Conditions Commonly Treated with Aquatic Therapy
Aquatic therapy is commonly used to treat the following conditions:
- Joint pain
- Multiple sclerosis
- Parkinson’s disease
- Post-operative conditions
- Sprains and strains
Research Supporting Aquatic Therapy
A wide body of research exists to back up the claims and confirm that aquatic therapy is a gentle and effective modality to treat and manage many common symptoms and health conditions. One study found that patients with low back pain reported better outcomes from aquatic therapy than other physical therapy modalities for pain relief, improved sleep, and better quality of life. Another study from 2020 determined that when water and land-based physical therapy were prescribed together, or in progression, patients had optimal results for training, conditioning, and rehabilitation. A review available on aquatic therapy for knee osteoarthritis confirmed this form of physical therapy had a positive effect on pain, function, strength, and walking.
Aquatic therapy is a fun and unique form of exercise that is performed in temperature-controlled pools. It is more than just swimming laps in the pool. It is a safe and effective form of physical therapy utilizing evidence-based techniques to help patients move and feel better. If you have a condition that requires gentle, supportive exercise, or if you find traditional land-based physical therapy challenging, consider trying aquatic therapy. Find a Tristar Physical Therapy clinic near you to schedule a screening and learn more about this beneficial form of physical therapy.