Aquatic physical therapy is a highly effective rehabilitation technique, shown to be very successful in treating a wide range of injuries and conditions.
What is aquatic physical therapy?
As defined by the American Physical Therapy Association, it is “the scientific practice of physical therapy in an aquatic environment performed by physical therapists and physical therapist assistants. It includes but is not limited to treatment, rehabilitation, prevention, health, wellness, and fitness. It may or may not include the use of assistive, adaptive, orthotic, protective, or supportive devices and equipment.”
What is the difference between aquatic therapy and land therapy?
Several principles and unique benefits of aquatic therapy elevate its effectiveness above land therapy.
- Hydrostatic Pressure. Because water is denser than air, it exerts more pressure and compresses your skin, muscles, and joints as you enter it. This forces the heart and lungs to work harder because of direct pressure on the chest cavity, improving circulation. It also helps relieve muscle aches by acting as a compression bandage for the entire body.
- Dulled Sense of Touch. Submersion in water helps dull the nerve endings in the skin and helps dull muscle pain. This helps the therapist to better touch, manipulate and stretch the patient’s skin and muscles for optimum results.
- Resistance. One of the biggest advantages of aquatic therapy is that water’s resistance helps tone atrophied muscles faster while reducing associated pain with therapy exercises. Along with buoyancy, water helps the patient keep their balance better.
- Massage. As water flows in currents around your body, it gently massages and causes muscle relaxation. The therapist can use paddles to direct the currents aimed at specific areas of your body.
Why is the water so warm?
Water used for some aquatic therapy is maintained around 94 degrees Fahrenheit. This increases blood flow to help promote healing and bring more oxygen-rich blood to the extremities. Sometimes a temperature of 88-92 degrees is recommended for less active patients with arthritis and women. Temps of 82-88 are suggested for more active patients and those with MS.
It seems the patients suffering from back pain and muscle spasms benefit the most from the heat.
What conditions are treated most often with aquatic therapy?
- Joint pain: sports injuries, overuse, and daily repetitive activities
- Low back pain
- Post-surgical debilitation
- Neurological injuries
- Orthopedic injuries
- Muscle weakness due to chronic or acute illness or injury
What are some benefits of aquatic PT?
- The warm water improves circulation, relaxes muscles, and lessens pain.
- Resistance helps in strength training by causing stronger muscle contractions as opposed to doing the same exercise in the air.
- Hydrostatic pressure assists in decreasing joint and soft tissue swelling. It also exerts pressure on the heart and lungs, improving overall circulation.
- Increased range-of-motion results in better mobility and ability.
- The reduction in gravitational pull lets the patient stand upright without fear of falling. This helps improve balance and direct gait training.
- The patient gains confidence during treatment and progresses faster toward meeting their rehab goals.
Who is this not for?
Aquatic PT is NOT recommended for anyone who is allergic or sensitive to pool chemicals, is afraid of water, has open skin wounds, or has bowel or bladder incontinence. Discuss any concerns openly with your therapist.
What is a typical treatment plan using aquatic physical therapy?
Every treatment plan starts with a consultation with the physical therapist. At this time your medical and/or surgical history is reviewed. Based on this information, the therapist designs an individualized plan of treatment and rehabilitation. If the therapist thinks it beneficial, aquatic therapy often accompanies land therapy, because the two techniques work together to improve and speed your recovery. When properly coordinated and completed, they also help prevent re-injury.
For more information about aquatic therapy, or with any other questions about our services at Cawley Physical Therapy and Rehab, visit our website. Or call us at 570-208-2787.