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Aquatic Therapy for Upper Extremity Injuries

Fit woman working out with foam dumbbells in swimming pool

The healing properties of water have been recorded since ancient times. Although popular for unloading joints such as the hips and knees, hydrotherapy can also be very helpful when rehabilitating an upper extremity injury, especially shoulder-related injuries. Here are a few of the benefits:

  1. Strengthening: The buoyancy of the water can be used to aid in early strengthening when performed at a slow speed. This is especially helpful in post-operative cases when guidelines to protect the repair are in place.
  2. Decreased swelling: The hydrostatic pressure of the water helps to assist edema from the injured area back into the body. Decreased swelling is essential for regaining strength and motion necessary for recovery.
  3. Decreased pain: Water slows and buffers movement, which then decreases the incidence of pain. Warm water also helps to decrease muscle spasms as well.
  4. Restoring Range of Motion: The water is a medium that supports and assists movement. It offers a safe and pain-free setting to focus on regaining range of motion in a joint that is stiff.

Aquatic therapy should only done under the supervision of a qualified physical therapist, and with your physician’s permission. Ladders can be challenging for someone with an upper extremity injury, so take extra caution when transferring in and out of the pool and always ensure that a lifeguard is present.

Sarah McLean, physical therapist

Sarah McLean has a Master’s degree in Physical Therapy and a Certificate of Clinical Competency in Aquatic Physical Therapy from the American Physical Therapy Association. She is a board certified Orthopedic Specialist and Clinical Specialist at the James M. Benson Sports Rehabilitation Center and Tisch Sports Performance Center at Hospital for Special Surgery, where she offers aquatic therapy services.

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.