By Marcia Spoto, PT
Aquatic therapy can be simply described as a treatment approach that utilizes the special properties of water to enhance the health benefits of a treatment program. A licensed physical therapist or physical therapist assistant directs aquatic physical therapy sessions.
People who have musculoskeletal pain must work to restore their movement function. For many, land-based exercise can be difficult. The water environment, which allows the body to be more buoyant, makes it much easier and more comfortable to exercise because it decreases the effects of gravity. If you add a heated pool environment, movement is even easier. Therapeutic pools are generally kept at between 92° and 96° F. At this temperature, circulation is improved and aching joints and muscles are more relaxed. Another benefit of water is that it provides resistance to muscles when they contract against it. This allows the muscles to strengthen throughout their range of movement, while removing the stress of full weight bearing. Water also provides stability to improve balance and prevent or assist with fear of falling.
Aquatic therapy can be very helpful to a variety of conditions, including joint pain, any form of arthritis such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, back pain, fibromyalgia, orthopedic injuries such as sprains and strains, following joint replacement, general deconditioning, and chronic stroke.
Aquatic physical therapy entails the provision of one-on-one treatment to better monitor and provide feedback on prescribed exercises designed to speed healing and return patients to their normal function. In some cases, aquatic therapy is used in conjunction with land-based therapy. Specific goals of treatment are improving flexibility, increasing muscle strength and endurance, enhancing aerobic capacity, promoting coordination and balance, and assisting gait. This form of therapy can make a tremendous difference in the road to recovery for many patients.
Marcia Spoto is a physical therapist and certified as orthopedic specialist by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties. She teaches at Nazareth College in Rochester and is the owner of STAR Physical Therapy in Fairport. Visit www.star-physicaltherapy.com.