An essential part of life, water is required by your body to perform basic functions, to cleanse itself of toxins, and to replenish its supply of fluids lost throughout the day. Water can also be used to heal your body. Aquatic therapy, also known as pool or water therapy, does just that.
Taking advantage of the various properties of water, aquatic therapy is an exercise or physical therapy program performed in water to assist patients with a variety of health conditions. Many hospitals, gyms, and health clubs offer aquatic therapy programs.
So what makes water such a great environment for therapy, what are the perks of water therapy, and who can benefit from an aquatic therapy program?
Aquatic therapy has been found helpful in improving joint function and rehabilitation following an injury or joint replacement surgery. It also provides relief of symptoms such as back pain, fibromyalgia, or osteoarthritis.
Exercising in water has additionally been shown to improve muscle strength, endurance, flexibility, balance, coordination, and range of motion. It can also increase cardiovascular function and circulation. Can’t swim? No problem. Even those who can’t swim can perform shallow water exercises. And while you’re in the water, aquatic therapy is a great way to have some fun recreation and socialize at the same time. All of these benefits can improve both your quality of life and self-esteem.
While water therapy is a safe alternative for many people, some people should avoid seeking water-based therapy. These include people with cardiac disease, as well as anyone suffering from an infection, fever, or bladder or bowel incontinence. Regardless of your level of health, getting the okay from a health pro before beginning water therapy will keep you from injury.
The magical properties of water make aquatic therapy beneficial beyond belief. It does this because the water itself provides the resistance your body will work against for exercise. With 12 times more resistance than air, exercising in water strengthens the muscles without the need for extra weights. This form of exercise is not weight bearing and it is low-impact, so it’s easy on your joints and spine and less painful than a traditional workout at the gym.
The buoyancy of water supports your weight and gives balance. This is particularly helpful if you have weak extremities due to injury, surgery, disease, or immobilization. Thanks to water’s buoyancy, the amount of stress placed on joints is reduced, making it especially helpful and less painful for those healing from bone injuries, living with arthritis, or working to overcome weight challenges.
In addition, the hydrostatic pressure of water - the pressure that non-moving water places on your body - produces equal force on all body parts. This helps decrease joint swelling caused by arthritis or injury, reduce swelling in the legs and feet, and realign joints. Hydrostatic pressure can also reduce your blood pressure while in the water.
Lastly, warm water relaxes tight or tense muscles. Warmth also increases blood flow to any injured body part, helping in the healing process. Those with back pain, muscle spasms, or fibromyalgia find warm water especially therapeutic.
New to aquatic therapy? It consists of a variety of exercises. Water exercises include walking, jogging, running, jumping, swimming, kicking, or other rhythmic movements. The faster you move, the more resistance you feel. Therefore, start slowly, simply walking through water, and then gradually increase your speed. Also, the deeper the water or the more your body is submerged, the more resistance you will feel. A good place to start is about waist or chest deep. This way you’ll feel resistance but also receive the balance and support provided by the water.
Aquatic therapy doesn’t require fancy equipment. All you really need is some water, and a swimsuit. If you’d like, wear water shoes to protect your feet while walking or running. Flotation devices such as vests, water wings, noodles, or head floats may be needed, whether you’re physically limited or want some extra resistance.