The benefits of aquatic therapy

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If you’re trying to get back into the game after an injury or even inactivity, and your capacity for traditional workouts is still limited, consider this recipe: Just add water.

By bringing buoyancy into the equation, aquatic therapy reduces stress on the body and benefits clients with a variety of needs. From rehabilitation after an injury or orthopaedic surgery to chronic conditions like fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis and osteoarthritis, aquatic therapy may be used to bring relief to a wide range of people.

“The benefit of aquatics is that we can do things more quickly with less pain in the unloaded environment,” said Dana Hoskins, a physical therapist with St. Elizabeth Healthcare.

 

What are the benefits of aquatic therapy?

“For athletes, it allows them to stay conditioned and maintain some of their cardiovascular endurance while they’re rehabilitating an injury,” she said, “or, post-surgically, start activities more quickly in the water that you can’t do yet on land because of weight-bearing restrictions.

“It’s also beneficial with people with high pain levels because of the same principles we’re using to protect those athletes: decreasing joint pressure, decreasing pain levels, allowing people to do activity they can’t do on land.”

Hoskins helps clients with aquatic therapy at St. Elizabeth’s facility at the Town & Country Athletic Center in Wilder (on the opposite side of the movie theater from Town & Country’s main facility). St. Elizabeth physical therapists previously practiced aquatic therapy in the warm-water pool at Town & Country’s main facility.

“The new pool gave us some additional features to use some new exercise techniques,” Hoskins said.

 

How does it work?

The new facility is equipped with a cutting-edge Hydroworx 500i Series pool with a variable-speed underwater treadmill and high-powered, variable-speed jets (two front, one side that can be angled depending on the client’s height) for resistance training and tissue massage.

The warm-water pool is 4 ½ feet deep at its deepest point, where the treadmill is; there’s also a platform for use for other exercises or smaller clients. The pool can be entered by way of stairs or a chair lift.

The pool is equipped with front- and side-mounted underwater cameras so physical therapists can evaluate gait patterns and ensure proper technique is used to maximize benefits.

 

Who can use aquatic therapy?

Clients are typically referred by orthopaedic medicine, rheumatologists or primary-care physicians. Treatments, which typically last 30-45 minutes each, generally are covered by insurance to the extent that physical therapy is, Hoskins said.

St. Elizabeth aquatic therapy services a broad base of clients, Hoskins said, from high school athletes rehabilitating surgically repaired knees, to the elderly with chronic conditions, and all ages in between.

A patient recovering from surgery to repair a torn knee ligament might not be able to resume running for eight to 10 weeks post-surgery, Hoskins said. Aquatic therapy, with far less stress on the legs, can start that process in five to six weeks, she said.

 

What is a typical session like?

A typical aquatic therapy session for a client rehabbing a repaired knee might include a warm-up; some walking; simulated biking, to improve cardiovascular endurance and tissue elasticity; and strengthening exercises tailored to that individual’s needs, Hoskins said. “If it’s appropriate for the patient, after that we would do some plyometric, dynamic activities, or running, and after the running we’re going to do a cool-down and some stretching-type exercises.”

Aquatic therapy also offers benefits to people with upper-body injuries, provided there’s no fear of water, Hoskins said. “We’re going to have them submerged much deeper, or we’re going to float them on the water and really work on range of motion,” she said. “But the water is so beneficial with the buoyancy and warmth to help decrease pain and increases tissue elasticity as well, so we can really work on increasing range of motion.”

Aquatic therapy also can benefit people whose weight and associated health issues make regular exercise uncomfortable or impossible, Hoskins said.

“We can get them in the water and develop an exercise program for them, then transition them to the gym where they can continue regular aquatic classes, or just the program of exercise we’ve established for their goals,” she said.

Typically St. Elizabeth can see new referrals within a week at the Wilder facility, which is open five days a week, but spots fill up fast, Hoskins said. “The pool is really popular.”

Movement on land can subject your leg joints to up to seven times your body weight. If you’re coming back from injury, aquatic therapy can increase your strength and flexibility and get you ready to get back in the game back on land.

 

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