Aquatic physical therapy, as the name implies involves utilizing water to achieve physical therapy goals. Water can be excellent environment for patients who have difficulty with weight bearing activities due to arthritis, recent fracture, sprain/strains, or excessive weight. There is no other method of exercising available that creates a near zero gravity setting. For instance, a 200 lb person would only weight 100lbs in waist deep water and if you increase the water dept to shoulder level that same person would only weigh 20 lbs, a mere 10% of their weight on land.
Aquatic therapy can facilitate healing to the site of the injury. By exercising in water, vasodilation of blood vessels occurs. This will increase blood flow to the injury site, which results in increased oxygen and nutrient delivery as well as waste product removal. All of which will promote the healing process.
The hydrostatic pressure exerted by water is yet another reason aquatic therapy can be beneficial. When patients are almost completely submerged in water, blood circulation improves drastically. This can facilitate decreased swelling in the lower extremities of the body.
A rather obvious benefit of aquatic therapy is the added resistance that the patient experiences while in the pool for therapy. Air resistance is much less than water resistance, so patients in water use many more muscles and have stronger muscle contractions than they would by exercising on land. I am quite sure most people, even if they cannot swim, have experienced this phenomenon, if not try and walk as fast as you can in chest deep water and see how fast you become fatigued.
Temperature can also have a beneficial effect. Aquatic therapy is performed in a heated pool with temperatures normally between 92 and 96 degrees. The heated water helps aching muscles and joints to relax and improve blood circulation. Patients suffering from back pain and muscle spasms really benefit the most from the heat.
Other beneficial attributes associated with water physical therapy include, increased range of motion, improved balance and coordination, normalization of muscle tone, protection of joints during exercise, and reduction of stress.
As a physical therapist at Danville Orthopedic & Athletic Rehab, I incorporate aquatic therapy whenever it would be beneficial to the patient. After injury or surgery, patients receive individualized exercise programs that help patients re-learn skills of daily life activities in a reduced gravitational setting in a pool, then incorporate these skills back to land where gravity is reintroduced. By utilizing both water and land therapy concurrently patients achieve incredible results in improved functional ability and accelerated recovery time. Our combined therapy emphasizes correct movement patterns with proper posture and total body fitness, which not only increases functional ability, but also reduces the possibility of re-injury.