Water is an ideal medium for rehabilitation because it allows painfree movements by decreasing the stress on the joints. The person in the water bears only the weight of the portion of the body that is above water. This means if you are in waist deep water, you are only weightbearing about 50% of your body weight.
The warm water temperature allows easier movement. This allows the athlete to become active following an injury or surgery, which is beneficial both physically and emotionally. Activities such as walking, running, stooping, bending, lifting, and climbing stairs are better tolerated in the pool than on land when injured. Warm water exercise helps the muscles to relax, reduce pain, decrease muscle spasms, increase movement of joints, increase muscle strength, endurance, balance, and stability. Aquatic therapy also helps overall morale and confidence.
Changes in our body occur during warm water exercise. These include: increased rate of breathing, decreased blood pressure, increased blood supply to muscles, increased circulation and heart rate, and decreased swelling of submerged body parts which are beneficial in recovery.
While most aquatic programs focus on rehabilitating a particular injury, the unique properties of water make it ideal for a lifelong fitness and wellness program. Because water provides 10-12 times the resistance of air, your muscles have to work much harder to pull your body through it. Moving through water is like lifting “liquid weight”. An example: When you perform a bicep curl in the gym, you are working only your biceps, but in the water, you have to push your arm back through the water to lower it, so you are working both biceps and triceps in one move.
Those who are physically challenged achieve total independence with aquatic therapy. Aquatic therapy is fun and easy to follow, therefore the patient is usually very compliant with attendance and treatment. The pool environment also produces a general sense of well being and provides new friendships for many. Those patients, who are initially afraid of the water, usually end up enjoying it within a few treatments, and enjoy the social interaction of others.
If you have an injury and would like to try aquatic therapy, ask your healthcare professional if it would be right for you. You will need a prescription for aquatic therapy from your physician.
Any questions or comments can be sent to Hollie_Kozak@HMIS.org
Sherri Evans, licensed physical therapy assistant who works with a local hospital’s aquatics program, writes today’s article and Dr. James Toth, Internal Medicine Physician, contributed to this article. July, 2003