Aquatic Therapy: Less Pain, Greater Recovery

by Steve Hefferon, CMT,PTA

The utilization of water as a health practice dates back centuries. Water is the only substance on Earth that is found in liquid, solid and gaseous forms, making it one of the most diverse elements for health application known to man.

When water is taken in liquid form in various ways for health, it is known as water therapy. When one is fully or partially submerged in water and moves or is physically moved in it, it is known as either hydrotherapy or aquatic therapy.

Most people know the necessity of staying hydrated by drinking appropriate amounts of clean, pure water every day. In a nutshell, these include maintaining proper levels of fluids in the body that aid skin tone, respiration, movement of blood, digestion of food, movement of bowels, improved kidney and liver function, and greater detoxification of the body.

Many people also know that water is an adjunct to many somatic therapies, such as chiropractic and physical therapy. It is used in solid form as ice to reduce swelling and pain and in heated liquid form for soaking painful limbs and relaxing tight muscles. As a vapor, water is used to clean the sinuses and, when steeped with herbs, to improve cardiovascular function.

One of the oldest methods of rejuvenating the body of aches and pains is sitting in heated pools of water, near volcanoes. These heated natural spas are perfect for relaxing and allowing heat to release body stiffness. Since the invention of the jaccuzzi there is no need to book long trips to Hawaii or Japan to do this.

As a home-based therapy the Jacuzzi offers several features, like heat therapy and massage therapy when the jets are on. This combination relaxes muscles and stimulates blood flow and research has shown that hydrotherapy improves circulation, decreases joint pain and in general accelerates the body’s natural healing process. Is it any wonder the day spa and home Jacuzzis are so popular?

Aquatic Therapy: Less Pain, Greater RecoveryAquatic therapy is becoming more popular each year outside the home. Many YMCAs, gyms and spas offer water aerobic classes and many physical therapists are now using saunas and pools in their hands-on therapies. Therapists have found that the natural “supportive” nature of water, and the resistance to movement it provides, act as a wonderful two-part therapy foundation. Therapy in pools offers resistance for gentle strength training, natural support to relieve pain on joints and a cooling or warming sensation for pain relief. Those who have decreased bone density will do well with aquatic therapy because of these reasons.

Water provides a safer and more controllable environment for strengthening, stretching and cardiovascular exercise than floor exercises or table stretches. Therapists report that patients who tend to give up their physical therapies because of pain, when doing them in water actually report between 50-100% pain relief during the session and thus tend to remain in therapy longer.

While studies have not yet been conducted, massage therapist Rebecca Goff of Maui reports that within her own clientele there is evidence of greater relief and healing while applying water-based cranioscaral therapy manipulation. This therapy uses precise gentle touch on the bones of the skull and spine to improve circulation of cerebrospinal fluid surrounding the brain and spinal chord. This therapy creates an improved functioning of the central nervous system and thus faster recovery time. When done is water, the effects are even stronger.

Whether you submerge just a foot, an arm or the entire body it seems aquatic therapies prove to offer substantial benefits to many floor-based treatment modalities. Its low impact and high resistance environment, its temperature and buoyancy make it ideally suited for strengthening, stretching and soothing muscles, bones, tendons and joints.

So if you are trying any kind of physical therapy and are finding the exercises are just too painful to do, ask if your sessions can be conducted in a pool. Chances are, they will be. And if not, there’s no harm in you checking the Internet for a local rehab specialist who is also versed in aquatic therapy.

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