Water, a soothing component for everyday living, makes us feel better in many ways a warm bath, a refreshing swim, a cool drink. No wonder, so many healthcare professionals are turning to water as an option for treatment. The pool is being proved for its value as the setting for more and more medical procedures, including rehabilitating patients with orthopedic injuries and chronic pain.
For many years, physical therapists have seen the benefits of aquatic physical therapy. As well as treating patients with orthopedic injuries and chronic pain, aquatic physical therapy is also an effective treatment for post-surgical patients, neurological patients, post-partum patients and athlete rehabilitation. Rehabilitative aquatics uses the natural physical properties of water to treat patients.
Why Water Works
Water has numerous characteristics that make it conducive to meeting treatment goals. Hydrostatic pressure is the equal pressure on all body parts that are immersed in water; this trait often helps to reduce swelling when exercises are performed below the surface of the water.
When a person enters the water the hydrostatic pressure that is applied to all body surfaces creates an upward force known as buoyancy. Buoyancy decreases the forces on body tissues and allows exercise with decreased pain and improved mobility. It is remarkable to see how quickly patients improve when they begin aquatic physical therapy.
Another characteristic of water that makes it beneficial for treatment is resistance. Water is u to 700 times more resistive than air. This resistance provides weak muscles with needed strength training. The natural properties of water allow patients to improve quicker in water than they would on land.
Benefits of Aquatic Physical Therapy
Overall, water has potential to promote quicker healing for patients. Aquatic physical therapy improves:
*Range of motion
Aquatic physical therapy is a safe, non-threatening way to treat patients.
In addition to the other benefits of aquatic physical therapy, professionals are finding that patients involved in aquatic physical therapy actually feel better about themselves. The water environment empowers patients to accomplish goals and see results. The pool atmosphere allows therapists and their patients to relax while working together toward treatment goals.It is encouraging to see many patients decide to incorporate water exercise into their daily routine once treatment is complete. The difference between aquatic physical therapy and water aerobics is that aquatic physical therapy is conducted under the supervision of a physical therapist with the goal of rehabilitation or health maintenance. Water aerobics is an excellent form of water exercise.
Aquatic physical therapy has become a valuable treatment component for many patients. And new benefits of the treatment are emerging all the time.
How Aquatic Therapy is Performed:
Aquatic therapy or pool therapy consists of an exercise program that is performed in the water. It is a beneficial form of therapy that is useful for a variety of medical conditions. Aquatic therapy uses the physical properties of water to assist in patient healing and exercise performance.
One benefit of aquatic therapy is the buoyancy provided by the water. While submerged in water, buoyancy assists in supporting the weight of the patient. This decreases the amount of weight bearing which reduces the force of stress placed on the joints. This aspect of aquatic therapy is especially useful for patients with arthritis, healing fractured bones, or who are overweight. By decreasing the amount of joint stress it is easier and less painful to perform exercises.
The viscosity of water provides an excellent source of resistance that can be easily incorporated into an aquatic therapy exercise program. This resistance allows for muscle strengthening without the need of weights. Using resistance coupled with the water’s buoyancy allows a person to strengthen muscle groups with decreased joint stress that can not be experienced on land.
Aquatic therapy also utilizes hydrostatic pressure to decrease swelling and improve joint position awareness. The hydrostatic pressure produces forces perpendicular to the body’s surface. This pressure provides joint positional awareness to the patient. As a result, patient proprioception is improved. This is important for patients who have experienced joint sprains, as when ligaments are torn, our proprioception becomes decreased. The hydrostatic pressure also assists in decreasing joint and soft tissue swelling that results after injury or with arthritic disorders.
Lastly, the warmth of the water experience during aquatic therapy assists in relaxing muscles and vasodilates vessels, increasing blood flow to injured areas. Patients with muscle spasms, back pain, and fibromyalgia find this aspect of aquatic therapy especially therapeutic.
It is important to know however, that aquatic therapy is not for everyone. People with cardiac disease should not participate in aquatic therapy. Those who have fevers, infections, or bowel/bladder incontinence are also not candidates for aquatic therapy. Always discuss this with your physician before beginning an aquatic therapy program.
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