When many people hear aquatic physical therapy they think of swimming or treading water. But it is much more than that. Aquatic physical therapy has many benefits, and swimming and the rewards of such is one aspect of it, mainly due to the properties of water itself.
The buoyancy component provides an environment of decreased weight for someone engaged in aquatic physical therapy. This decreases stresses and forces on the joints which allows for less pain while exercising than on land in a full gravity situation. It also usually means a person exercise for longer. Another value of water buoyancy is the reduced gravitational force and can help decrease pain and reduce or eliminate further injury to structures that are not fully healed. In addition, many patients who have balance deficits due to joint replacements, weakness or other neurological causes feel less anxiety from the fear of falling.
The natural viscosity of water also is a benefit for aquatic physical therapy. The viscosity of water creates a natural resistance so that it is not necessary for a person to use weights or elastic bands which can cause pain and stress on joints in an injury compromised patient. Since the water resistance is constant the patient can exert as much or little force as is comfortable to them. Other equipment is available for making exercises more advanced or easier and can include floatation, giving aquatic physical therapy considerable versatility.
Another property of water is hydrostatic pressure. This natural pressure can help reduce inflammation and improve stability and coordination. Plus it also helps decrease swelling and edema and improves blood flow and circulation.
If the water during aquatic therapy is of the proper temperature, between 92 and 94 degrees Fahrenheit, muscles relax, improving flexibility and range of motion, as well as reducing aching muscles and spasm.
Another feature of pool therapy not often listed is that it is just plain fun and enjoyable to be in water. Even if one is just splashing around for fun and relaxation, all the previous mentioned benefits are still there and still occurring. But often the physical therapist will provide a directed and goal oriented home program with either pictures and video, available with many exercise programs.
Finally, aquatic physical therapy not only lends itself to the rehabilitation of injured people, it is also quite useful for the high level athlete whether with a slight injury or no injury. Provided with the proper treatment protocol, many minor injuries can heal and recover quickly due to the reduced load bearing stresses on soft tissues. And for the healthy athlete, exercise sessions can be extended longer than dry land activity, thus helping to improve endurance and stamina.
So the next time you hear aquatic physical therapy, remember it is not just swimming. It can promote healing, improve balance, strengthen, reduce discomforts, decrease swelling, improve circulation, and enhance rehabilitation in both the infirm and athletic.