Well, more than just feeling good, using a pool can have many benefits to our overall health. If part of a rehabilitation program, aquatic/pool therapy can be used to treat both chronic conditions like arthritis and acute injuries like muscle spasms. Many studies have also found that aqua therapy is very beneficial for post-surgical patients recovering from knee and hip replacements as well as arthroscopic surgeries. So what makes this type of therapy so effective?
1. Decreased pain. Water slows and buffers movement, which then decreases the incidence of pain. Therapy pools tend to be heated and are usually between 92 and 96 degrees. The heated water helps aching muscles and joints to relax and improve blood circulation. Patients suffering from back pain and muscle spasms really benefit the most from the heat.
2. Decreased pressure. The buoyancy of the water decreases the amount of pressure, or compressive forces, on your joints and spine. When you’re immersed in water up to your neck, the weight pressing down on your body is reduced by 90%. When the water is up to your waist, the pressure is reduced by 50%. This can be especially helpful after surgery, when your body is healing and you need to be careful about how much weight is placed on the surgical site.
3. Decreased swelling. The pressure of the water helps to move fluid from the injured area back into the body. By exercising in water, vasodilation of blood vessels occurs. This will increase blood flow to the injury site, which results in increased oxygen and nutrient delivery both which are necessary for healing. At the same time waste product removal is occurring at the site which will decrease swelling and inflammation. Decreased swelling is essential for regaining the strength and motion needed for recovery. All of this will promote the healing process.
4. Increased Flexibility. Water is a medium that supports and encourages movement. It offers a safe and pain-free setting to focus on regaining strength and joint range of motion. Studies have found pool therapy to not only increase flexibility but to increase balance and coordination. This is especially important for the elderly populations in which falling can be a serious health concern.
5. Quicker progress. Aerobic conditioning can often be performed in the water even when it may be too soon or too difficult to do in the gym. Staying stable in the water challenges your core and balance, and sports-specific activity can begin earlier than it can on land. For example a runner overcoming injuries can use Aqua running to maintain cardiovascular fitness with less impact on the joints, than road or treadmill running.
6. Lots of Fun! Water is a constantly changing environment that can keep you challenged and motivated during your recovery. This can also have a positive psychological effect which is important to anyone overcoming an injury.
Each aquatic therapy program should be an individualized exercise program that help patients re-learn skills of everyday life activities in a reduced gravitational setting (i.e. in a pool). These skills should then be incorporated back to land where gravity is reintroduced. By utilizing both water and land therapy concurrently patients’ results include improved functional ability and accelerated recovery time. The emphasis should be on correct movement patterns with proper posture and total body fitness, which not only increases functional ability, but also reduces the possibility of re-injury.
Before you start any program it is highly recommended that you consult with your family physician or other health care practitioner.