Aquatic Therapy can be a great alternative for patients who have difficulty or are unable to perform exercise or physical therapy on land.
Our clinic is one of the few physical therapy facilities in the Los Angeles area with the capabilities to offer an ancient yet state-of-the-art form of highly beneficial rehabilitation modality. With a beautiful outdoor pool and expert instruction our aquatic therapy can provide multiple advantages over land therapy in many cases. The flexibility of being able to utilize many different forms of therapy sets Pacific Coast Sports Medicine apart as we customize a rehabilitation program especially for you which may include exercising in water.
What is Aquatic Therapy?
Aquatic therapy is a form of treatment that has evolved over thousands of years from ancient Greco-Roman gymnasium aquatics to the innovative pool technology of today. Typically, it involves partial or full immersion of the body into water in order to obtain musculoskeletal improvements that might be difficult or impossible on land. Physical therapists, athletic trainers, and other health professionals use aquatic therapy due to water’s unique principles: buoyancy, hydrostatic pressure, thermal stability, and drag force. In some cases, the use of water in rehabilitation and exercise training can yield psychological benefits as well (2,3).
Reduced joint compression, enhanced proprioception, and the alleviation of pain are some of aquatic therapy’s many benefits.
One of the most beneficial aspects of training underwater is the amount of reduced joint compression due to water’s buoyant and pressure properties. Buoyancy exerts an upward force on the immersed body (or body parts) opposing gravity, enabling floatation, and decreasing overall body weight, greatly lessening the stress on bone, muscle, and connective tissue (2). This offers tremendous relief and aid to patients with joint-related disorders, as well as patients post-surgery.
In addition to reducing joint compression, the hydrostatic pressure property of water provides a constant and even pressure that helps improve proprioception to the area of concern (3). This is important because injury often negatively affects the body part’s ability to accurately gauge the relative position in space and the amount of effort needed to complete movements. Blood flow back to the heart may also be increased due to hydrostatic pressure, allowing the healing process to be expedited.
The thermal stability of water provides several benefits to a patient’s aquatic therapy regimen. Like hydrostatic pressure, warm water has the ability to alleviate pain and improve blood circulation. Simply being in a warm pool allows muscles to relax and lose tension. In conjunction with muscle relaxation, the constant, warm temperatures used in the therapy pools causes the dilation of blood vessels in the body, thereby increasing blood flow in and out of the injured area.
Due to water’s physical properties, patients with injury can exercise without compromising safety.
Drag force, the added and proportional resistance on the force exerted by the body while immersed in water, allows aquatic therapy to serve as an effective substitute to the usual land-based weight training while also providing patients with a challenge (2). In other words, it not only builds muscular strength and endurance, but also improves cardiovascular and cardiorespiratory endurance (3).
Examples of scientific research studies where aquatic therapy has been shown to be effective:
- Chronic Low Back Pain
- An 8-week aquatic therapy program 3 days/week decreased back pain at rest, during flexion and extension by 61%, 68%, and 74% (1).
- A 10-week program 5 days/week decreased back pain by 52% and strengthened back flexors and extensors by 48% and 152% (3).
The exercises conducted in aquatic therapy sessions, such as underwater running, not only gives patients the opportunity to improve strength and endurance, but also allows them to do so in a medium that will decrease stress and pain.
- Baena-Beato PA, Arroyo-Morales M, Delgado-Fernandez M, Gatio-Cardia MC, Artero EG. Effects of different frequencies (2-3 days/week) of aquatic therapy program in adults with chronic low back pain. Pain Medicine. 2013;14:145-158.
- Cole AJ, Becker BE. Comprehensive Aquatic Therapy. 2nd ed. Philadelphia (PA): Butterworth Heinemann; 2004: 1-4, 138.
- Han G, Cho M, Nam G, Moon T, Kim J, Kim S, Hong S, Cho B. The effects on muscle strength and visual analog scale pain of aquatic therapy for individuals with low back pain. J Phys Ther Sci. 2011;23:57-60.