Everyone knows how good it feels to take a dip in the pool on a hot day, and how water can relax you and relieve tired muscles. But did you know that it can add a boost to your physical therapy routine as well? When part of an overall plan for rehabilitation, aquatic therapy has a number of advantages:
1. Less pressure. The buoyancy of the water decreases the amount of pressure, or compressive forces, on your joints and spine. When you’re immersed in water up to your neck, the weight pressing down on your body is reduced by 90%. When the water is up to your waist, the pressure is reduced by 50%. This can be especially helpful after surgery, when your body is healing and you need to be careful about how much weight is placed on the surgical site.
2. Reduced swelling. The pressure of the water helps to move fluid from the injured area back into the body. Decreased swelling is essential for regaining the strength and motion needed for recovery.
3. Decreased pain. Water slows and buffers movement, which then decreases the incidence of pain. Warm water helps to decrease muscle spasms as well.
4. Ease of movement. Water is a medium that supports and assists movement. It offers a safe and pain-free setting for you to focus on regaining strength and joint range of motion.
5. Faster progress. Aerobic conditioning can often be performed in the water even when it may be too soon or too difficult to do in the gym. Staying stable in the water challenges your core and balance, and sports-specific activity can begin earlier than it can on land. Aqua running can produce cardiovascular results with less impact on your joints.
6. It’s fun! Water is a constantly changing environment that can keep you challenged and motivated during your recovery.
If you’d like to give it a try, talk to your doctor or physical therapist to help you decide whether or not aquatic therapy is right for you.
Sarah Killian, physical therapist, is certified by the Aquatic Therapy & Rehab Institute and offers aquatic therapy services at the Sports Rehabilitation and Performance Center at Hospital for Special Surgery.