What is Aquatic Therapy and why would you need it?
Aquatic Therapy is physical therapy adapted to a pool setting. It uses the principles of water to aid and promote the healing of an individual’s specific therapy needs. Aquatic therapy is NOT water aerobics and contrary to popular belief, you do not need to know how to swim to participate! So, what principles of water make it different from traditional land-based therapy?
• First, there’s buoyancy, which is the upward thrust of the water that acts on a submerged body. Buoyancy varies from person to person as it is impacted by the amount of muscle tone/mass and the amount of fat of each individual. Buoyancy can be assistive, resistive, or supportive. It’s assistive when you move toward the surface of the water, resistive when you move away from the surface of the water, and supportivewhen you move along the surface of the water. One of the main advantages buoyancy provides is the reduction in weight-bearing forces. Patients exercising in water feel lighter, move more easily, and feel less weight on their joints. The percentage of weight-bearing can be adjusted by the depth of the water in which the patient performs the exercise. For example, in waist depth water, you are about 50% weight bearing as compared to on land. This is especially helpful for patients that have weight-bearing restrictions because of an injury or surgery and for those who need the joint decompression because of pain in their joints or spine. They are typically able to do far more in the water than they could manage on land. • The next property to note is Hydrostatic Pressure. Pascal’s Law states that fluid pressure is exerted equally on all surfaces of an immersed body at a given depth. The amount of pressure increases with an increased depth of immersion. Hydrostatic pressure opposes the tendency of blood to pool in the lower portions of the body, which helps to reduce swelling. It also helps stabilize unstable joints. • Next on the list is Viscosity, more commonly known as Resistance. This is the resistance to movement through a fluid that is caused by friction between the molecules of the fluid. As water temperature increases, viscosity decreases because the molecules are further apart. Warmer water temperature is beneficial for smaller, weak muscles that cannot take a lot of resistance, which is often the situation post-injury or surgery. (That is why we keep our pool at a comfortable 93 degrees!) The force of resistance experienced because of the viscosity is known as drag, and will change depending on whether you streamline a movement or add turbulence, the amount of surface area, increasing/decreasing the speed of movement, and reversing the direction of movement.
These are a few of the main properties of water that help us maximize a patient’s time in the pool to achieve the goals we set with them at their first visit. Some of the most common conditions that benefit greatly from aquatic therapy are arthritis, spinal issues/low back pain, fibromyalgia, rotator cuff injuries/surgery, total joint replacements (once incision is healed), fractures and joint sprains/strains. Think you may benefit from Aquatic Therapy? Give our Pearland office a call! We would love to see you!