If you’ve suffered an accident or you’re trying to recover from a severe medical condition, you might need to try what’s known as water therapy. This form of physical therapy rehabilitates the body as you learn how to move and stretch your body in the water. Unlike land-based physical therapy, the water provides added resistance that helps you build muscle and endurance. Raising the temperature of the water also relieves joint and muscle pain. The added buoyancy helps you keep your balance, so you don’t have to worry about suffering a nasty fall in the pool. As an effective medical treatment for all kinds of conditions and illnesses, water therapy will get you moving again, so you can get back to the active lifestyle you’ve always wanted.
What Is Water Therapy?
Water therapy is similar to physical therapy except it takes place in a pool or another aquatic environment. Just like regular physical therapy, water therapy is a form of physical medicine, helping people get back on their feet after an accident, injury or a serious health condition. There are lots of reasons to try physical therapy in the pool instead of on land. The water adds extra resistance, which can help you build muscle and take control of your body as you work toward becoming more independent. Completing various moves and activities in the water also makes for a soothing, healing experience. You won’t feel as much pressure on your joints as you would on dry land, and the water can even help relieve physical pain.
This kind of physical therapy goes by many names, including aquatic therapy, hydrotherapy, pool therapy and therapeutic water exercise. This is not to be confused with aquatic exercise or pool exercise, which is mainly for building muscle and endurance and burning calories. Rather, water therapy is about rehabilitating the body as you relearn how to move and use your limbs normally. A certified instructor or physical therapist will need to oversee the process to keep you safe and ensure results. They will help you get comfortable in the water and make sure you’re keeping proper form as you try to use and extend your body in different ways.
Water therapy does not involve teaching people how to swim. There are no swim strokes to master–just simple moves and positions that teach you how to retain control of your body. If you’re having trouble keeping your balance, walking, using your muscles or moving your body in certain directions, water therapy is here to help.
You’ll find water therapy centers at gyms, medical facilities and nursing homes. You can also try water therapy at home if you own a backyard pool, and an instructor can help you through the process.
What Is Water Therapy For?
You may need to try water therapy if you’re trying to rehabilitate your body after an accident or injury, or if you’re suffering from a health condition. Generally, you will use this form of rehabilitation to regain control over your body and become more independent.
Typically, the goal of water therapy is to:
Reduce pain and joint stiffness
Improve balance and coordination
Build muscle and endurance
Reduce stress during physical activity
Improve gait and locomotion
There are lots of reasons why you may need water therapy. Maybe you’ve been in a car accident and you injured your leg, or maybe you’re having trouble getting around the house as you get older.
Some medical conditions that often require water therapy include:
Mild to severe arthritis
Lower back pain
Joint replacement or reconstruction surgery recovery
Spinal cord injury
Traumatic brain injury
Muscle and joint sprains
You don’t have to be a certain age to try water therapy. People of all ages may need to use this form of physical therapy to get back on their feet. Depending on the situation, a doctor may prescribe water therapy as part of the overall treatment process. If you’re suffering from one of the conditions mentioned above and you’re having trouble moving and using your body, talk to your doctor and see if they recommend water therapy.
Benefits of Water Therapy
There are lots of reasons to choose pool therapy over land-based physical therapy. The pool, whether it’s at your local gym or in your own backyard, provides a soothing environment that helps you regain control of your body without the added discomfort and pain you might feel on dry land.
Here are just some of the benefits of water therapy:
Raising the temperature of the pool helps relieve muscle and joint pain.
Moving your body through the water creates more resistance than being on dry land, which helps build muscle and endurance.
The buoyancy of water reduces the strain of gravity on your body, so your joints and muscles won’t have to work as hard to support your body weight.
Creating hydrostatic pressure in the pool helps you stabilize your body in the water. This added pressure keeps you centered and in control of your body, so you don’t have to worry about falling like you would on dry land.
Your physical therapist can also adjust the flow of the water to help you build endurance and improve your balance as you move further along with your treatment.
With the added resistance of water, your respiratory muscles will have to work harder, which helps you increase your lung capacity and build endurance.
Warm water also stimulates blood flow to increase circulation, which can help with muscle stiffness and joint pain.
As you can see, many of these benefits are not available on dry land. Working in a normal gym or physical therapy center comes with the risk of falling. The air doesn’t come with as much resistance, which makes it harder to build muscle and endurance. Your lung capacity won’t change, and you’ll need to start doing more strenuous activities such as using small weights if you want to improve your physical condition. This comes with added risk of injury, which may strain your muscles and joints. You’ll also experience more pain and discomfort on dry land, which can make physical therapy nearly impossible for some individuals.
Considering how warm water can relieve pain and reduce joint stiffness, water therapy helps you get the ball rolling when it comes to physical therapy. You might have to wait several weeks or months to start physical therapy if you’re still reeling in pain after an accident or surgery. But with the soothing effects of water therapy, you might be able to start the process sooner. If you’re having trouble with land-based physical therapy, try getting in the pool and raising the temperature of the water to see if it makes a difference. You might be surprised to find that physical therapy is much easier and less painful when you’re in the water.
What Does Water Therapy Look Like?
If you’re not sure what to expect from your first water therapy session, have no fear. Remember that every water therapy session will be different depending on your physical condition and what kind of results you’re trying to achieve. Your first session is all about making you, the patient, feel comfortable in the water.
You might feel uncomfortable wearing a bathing suit in public or in front of your physical therapist but try to remember that this is a safe space for people to heal their bodies and not a place for judgment. If you have any concerns about wearing a swimsuit or getting in the water, talk to your physical therapist and let them guide you through this process.
Before you get started, the physical therapist will walk you through the goals of the session and help you orient yourself in the pool. They’ll be right there every step of the way to make sure you feel comfortable. To help you relax, your physical therapist will usually start with a gentle warm-up period that involves simple stretches and extensions so your body can get used to the feel of the water.
Next, they’ll have you move on to more robust exercises for strength training and fitness. This might include running in place underwater, light weight lifting and other moves that increase your heart rate and get your body moving. These exercises may be extremely mild at first if you’re dealing with intense pain or you’re still in the early stages of recovery.
Most water therapy sessions will also include some core exercises that work your abdominal muscles to improve balance and control. Your physical therapist may use water jets to keep you balanced in the water as you make your way from one side of the pool to the other. You can also use floatation devices to help you keep your balance in the water. These devices also improve buoyancy, which reduces the gravitational pull of your body. You’ll feel lighter and you won’t put as much pressure on your joints. These core exercises might include arm swings, squats and other exercises that shift your body weight, forcing you to refigure your balance.
Finally, the session will typically end with a cool-down period. Your physical therapist may have you do another round of light stretching. Depending on the type of pool you’re in, they may also turn on a series of warm jets to help you relax. The pulsing water will massage your muscles, which also helps prevent the buildup of lactic acid.
Pool Accessories for Water Therapy
If you’re looking to build a water therapy center at home, you may be interested in buying some pool accessories that you can use to complete a range of exercises underwater. These range from large-scale installations to small accessories you can find at a local beach or fitness store.
Some common pool accessories include:
An underwater treadmill or stationary bike for walking or biking in place. The water adds resistance that you won’t get on dry land.
Ankle weights for building muscle and endurance when walking or lifting weights in the pool.
Resistance bands for stretching or building muscle under water.
Noodles and kickboards to help you float in the water, so you can work your legs or work on balancing different parts of your body.
Adjustable barbells for some light weightlifting in the pool.
Floatation rings and belts to help you float and keep your balance.
While these accessories aren’t required, they can help you do more in the pool. Some activities or moves may be out of reach unless you have the right equipment. Most water therapy centers will provide these items, but you can always purchase them for yourself if you want to continue with your water therapy at home. Make sure you keep your pool clean and refrain from getting in the water if you have an infection.
In Conclusion: Preparing for Water Therapy
Hopefully, you now have a more thorough understanding of water therapy and how it can help you increase your range of motion and regain your independence. Starting physical therapy, either in the pool or on dry land, is never easy. If you need physical therapy, chances are you’re dealing with some unruly pain or a limited range of motion. To get started, remember to go slow and always follow the instructions of your physical therapist. While some mild pain is bound to occur when you’re just starting out, you will learn to relax and become more mobile as the treatment progresses. Physical therapy is all about learning how to control your body, so focus on whatever muscle you’re using in the moment. Trust your physical therapist and, over time, you’ll start to get the hang of it.
As you move further along, you’ll feel less pain and you’ll start to feel more comfortable moving on your own. You should enjoy more flexibility, gain muscle mass and learn how to keep your balance. Many water therapy patients move onto land-based physical therapy once they’ve built up their strength. Stick with it and you’ll feel like your old self before you know it.