Water Wellness: The Advantages of Aquatic Therapy

By Kyra Mancine

Getting in a water workout in the HydroWorx pool at The Pieters Life Center in Henrietta. Aquatic therapy offers a number of advantages for patients with orthopedics issues or other injuries.
Getting in a water workout in the HydroWorx pool at The Pieters Life Center in Henrietta. Aquatic therapy offers a number of advantages for patients with orthopedics issues or other injuries.

Aquatic therapy can help rehabilitate, relieve pain and improve mobility, strength and coordination for a variety of conditions. The buoyancy of the water, combined with soothing, warmer water temperatures and gentle, low impact exercises (done with or without equipment), makes it one part of an overall treatment plan for individuals with orthopedic issues or other injuries. You don’t even need to know how to swim to participate.

The treatment

Most sessions include resistant exercises done in a therapeutic pool heated to 85 degrees Fahrenheit or above. Some pools have lifts, so the patient won’t have to walk down steps to enter or exit the pool. In select locations, an underwater treadmill is available.

During the course of the session, which can range from 30 to 60 minutes, individuals complete a variety of movements intended to improve balance, strength, range of motion, endurance and coordination.

Because of the resistance of the water, you can get a better workout in a shorter period of time, without the risk of injury. All you need prior to your session is a swimsuit and, in some cases, goggles or water shoes.

“We see people for aquatic therapy to treat any number of conditions, including low back pain or pain in the ankle, knee or hips,” said Gregory VanGorden, assistant clinic coordinator at Brockport’s Agapé Physical Therapy. “We also offer fitness packages in which clients can come do individual aquatic exercises and water walking.”

Van Gorden said aquatic therapy is great for reducing stress on the joints and allowing individuals with arthritis, obesity or lower extremity conditions to exercise. Agape’s rehabilitation pool has enough space for three people and also includes an underwater treadmill. Two of its other locations offer underwater treadmills with a one-person private exercise chamber — the Hydro Track in Gates and the AquaFit in Webster.

How to get started

In most cases, individuals are referred by their doctor for these programs and evaluated by a licensed therapist who customizes a treatment plan. This plan can also include land-based exercises. Typically, the physical therapist will screen potential candidates and recommend a course of therapy appropriate for their needs. Insurance often covers the therapy, but always check with your provider before you begin any course of treatment.

A pool with a treadmill floor

The Pieters Life Center in Henrietta is another option for aquatic therapy. It offers a state-of-the art HydroWorx 2000 pool for aqua therapy. The pool is not meant for swimming laps — it’s too small for that. You don’t even have to climb into the pool — it rises up and lowers down with you.

The treadmill floor moves up to 8.5 mph, and there’s a bar that lowers down in front of you for stability. They can also turn on the jets to create greater resistance.

Three underwater cameras record your stride. The water level is kept below the shoulder level of the shortest person, so you won’t even get your hair wet. There is also a TV at eye level to watch.

“There are a variety of ailments that draw people to participate in pool programs,” said Barb Cacia, wellness coordinator at Pieters Life Center. “They range from pre-and post-surgery replacements to chronic pain of all sorts. This type of exercise is very beneficial for people who want to reduce the limitations aging has on the body.”

Cacia said that “for those with injuries or pain, the warm water relaxes muscles and improves range of motion, opening the joint and preventing more arthritic bone formation. At the same time, the muscles are working against the resistance of the water; therefore, strength will improve.”

In contrast, non-water therapy and workouts can prove too strenuous and discourage patients from continuing the treatment, she said.

“The warmth of the water is so comforting,” Cacia said. “It reduces stress and, in turn, people are more likely to return to the exercise program. Once the participants meet others whose goals are similar, friendships develop, and now you have a total wellness program!”

Where It’s Available

There are several places in the region that offer aquatic therapy, including the following businesses

Agapé Physical Therapy
92 W. Avenue, Brockport
880 Elmgrove Road, suite 2, Rochester
1075 Ridge Road, Webster

Metro Center YMCA
(program via Strong Health)
444 E. Main St., Rochester

Physical Therapy at Ridgeway
2655 Ridgeway Ave., auite 320, Rochester

• Pieters Family Life Center
(Heritage Christian Services)
1025 Commons Way, Rochester

• Star Physical Therapy
790 Ayrault Road, Fairport

• Summit Physical & Occupational Therapy Center
99 MedTech Drive, suite 104, Batavia

• University Orthopedic Associates
2064 Fairport Nine Mile Point Road, Penfield