Aquatic therapy is also known as hydrotherapy and can be beneficial in improving flexibility, range of motion, strength, balance, and coordination for patients with a variety of diagnoses. The aim is to rehabilitate patients while avoiding the stress of the patient’s body weight on the joints. Hydrotherapy makes exercise possible for those who are unable to participate in land based exercise. Aquatic therapy is particularly beneficial for patients with advanced osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and directly after spine surgery.
The goal of aquatic therapy is to maintain strength, conditioning and improve overall function. All aquatic exercise programs should be initiated only after a complete evaluation by a certified physical therapist. Patients typically begin with shallow water exercises, advancing to deep water exercises in order to prepare for land therapy.
The benefit of being under water is that the body is subject to equal pressure all over. Submersion decreases weight bearing, allowing individuals who cannot weight bear on land the opportunity to support their body weight with minimal effort under water. Water can support weak muscles, while enhancing flexibility and range of motion. For many patients, water therapy can allow the physical therapist to achieve goals in a shorter time.
Six types of therapeutic aquatic exercise have been identified, which include: water walking, range of motion and stretching for flexibility, movement exercises to increase strength and endurance, rhythmic movement to improve balance and coordination, cardio-respiratory fitness and conditioning, and swimming.
Effects on the body include an increased blood flow after immersion, increase in metabolic waste removal, and increased oxygen delivery to muscle tissue. Water therapy also improves muscle tone and endurance, and increases cardiovascular function, flexibility and range of motion.
Water therapy exercise programs can include a variety of treatments that can be specifically designed to provide relief for low back pain and neck pain. The program includes exercises for core strengthening in order to avoid future recurrences.