The Health Benefits of Aquatic Therapy
Humans have for a long time appreciated the soothing and supportive benefits of water. For people with injuries or mobility problems, getting in the pool with an experienced physical therapist can help improve movement and promote healing.
Aquatic therapy is a form of physical therapy which offers a wide range of health benefits and one which is becoming increasingly popular. Many physical therapists throughout the world today have additional qualifications for delivering this kind of therapy to a patients suffering from a range of medical conditions.
What is Aquatic Therapy?
Aquatic therapy involves a series of treatments and exercises that are performed in water, typically in a swimming pool. These activities can be used for relaxation, physical therapy and rehabilitation. It’s a form of therapy that is often suggested for older adults as a way of improving mobility and coordination through exercise.
Individuals who have suffered an injury, are recovering from a stroke, have been in an accident or have issues such as chronic back pain can also benefit from this type of exercise. Aquatic therapy can be carried out on a one to one basis or in a class with several participants.
A Brief History of Aquatic Therapy
In Ancient Greece and Rome, people regularly bathed in hot springs to relax and improve circulation. Throughout the ages, water has widely been used in various therapies.
Monks in Switzerland, for instance, used local thermal pools to treat sick and disabled individuals. In the USA, President Roosevelt used water therapy to help improve his polio symptoms.
Over the years, aquatic therapy has become more and more mainstream and is generally delivered by a qualified physical therapist.
What are the Main Benefits of Aquatic Therapy?
The main benefit of aquatic therapy is the support that it provides for the individual. It reduces the force on the joints and can make doing simple physical therapy exercises easier.
It can, for example, be helpful for someone after surgery allowing them to start moving the joints or muscles that have been affected. Simply standing in the water up to waist height can reduce the weight on the body by some 50%.
- Participants can benefit from natural resistance that makes the muscles work a little harder without being high impact.
- In ageing adults with mobility issues, for example, it can gently increase muscle strength and coordination without the risk of falling during exercise.
- Aquatic therapy can also improve aerobic capacity depending on the type of exercise and the water will also reduce stress and boost relaxation.
For those who have joint issues or are recovering from an accident or injury where there is a lot of discomfort, aquatic therapy allows the physical therapist to manipulate key areas with reduced levels of pain.
Conditions That Can be Helped by Aquatic Therapy
Aquatic therapy is often used in rehabilitation for those who have undergone surgery or have issues such as chronic back pain. Older people can undergo exercise regimes safely in water to improve mobility and stability.
- It’s also used to improve conditions related to the joints such as scoliosis, arthritis and bursitis.
- Patients with specific conditions such as cerebral palsy and Parkinson’s disease can also benefit from aquatic therapy.
The therapy has also proved useful in combatting various mental health problems such as depression and anxiety because of the relaxing nature of the water.
What Can I Expect During an Aquatic Therapy Session?
Aquatic therapy is usually carried out in a swimming pool and participants will need to wear a swimsuit. No other equipment is usually required. The type of session that is undertaken by the physical therapist will depend on who is being treated.
- Patients with serious injuries will have a one to one session and often the therapist will be in the water with them providing additional support.
- Aqua jogging, where the individual wears a floatation belt and runs in the water, is often used for athletes recovering from injury as well as those who are obese and unable to exercise on land.
- Group sessions are not uncommon in aquatic therapy and there are a variety of approaches. Ai Chi, for example, is a form of water exercise that is based on the traditional T’ai Chi.
- Another type of therapy utilizes ring-shaped flotation devices that the individual can use for support and which helps them move across the water.
In all cases, the physical therapist will work with the individual and learn their limitations and abilities so the session can be tailored to their needs and what needs to be achieved.
Circumstances Where Aquatic Therapy is Not Suitable
- If the patient is unable to swim, the physical therapist needs to be informed so that they can offer more assistance if needed. There are some circumstances, however, where aquatic therapy may not be appropriate, for example, if someone has a fear of water.
- If the patient has a heart condition, COPD or other respiratory issues, this kind of therapy can be extremely challenging without specialist support.
- If the patient has a high fever, is susceptible to seizures or has a Hepatitis A, water therapy may not be suitable.