What could be more soothing for aching joints and stressed muscles than a warm pool of water? Following a stroke or serious injury, or in the case where an older adult experiences imbalance or weakness, exercising in a warm, therapeutic, water environment could be the ideal option. Water is naturally soothing and relaxing. Perhaps it gives a person a feeling of security and being held. This could be thanks to the nature of water, it surrounds and supports a person. Exercises for therapeutic reasons are performed in warm water with a temperature of between 79ºF and 96ºF, depending on the type of therapy required and the cardiovascular health of the patient.
Types of Water Exercises:
While there is overlap between the types of water-based therapies, there are some differences:
Aquatic physical therapy
These are therapeutic treatments that take place in a heated pool for the purpose of relaxation, to get fit, and for physical rehabilitation. Patients will either float or submerge themselves in the water.
Goals of aquatic therapy are the specific rehabilitation goals and also, improved circulation, respiration, improved muscle tone, and movement that is more flexible and smooth.
These therapeutic exercises work towards the goal of pain relief and therapeutic treatment through movement and exercises. Hydrotherapy takes place in a heated pool. Goals of hydrotherapy in addition to the specific goal of rehabilitation include, enhanced mobility, reduction of pain and muscle spasm, improved range of movement and rehabilitation of injured muscles.
All exercise performed in water has the added benefits that are listed below.
Added Benefits of Exercising in Water
For any type of therapy performed in a water environment, in addition to the specific goal of the rehabilitation there are also several important added benefits:
- water supports the patient – it is more pleasant and easier to stand or sit in the pool
- the natural support prevents the patient from falling over or losing their balance
- water provides resistance which makes any exercise done in water more effective since the body works a little harder
- the water pressure relives chronic pain as well as the pain of the exercise
- certain water exercises have the same gains as actual swimming
- exercises are low-impact on the joints since the water assists in bearing the weight
- release of emotional stress
- slowed movement in the water allows a patient consciously to focus on moving correctly and neurologically the brain can process the learning that the muscles are experiencing
- access for the therapist all around the patient, for example, there is no need for the patient to turn over as on a bed
- circulation and respiratory system improvements
Who Helps the Patient?
Patients will be guided by a professional instructor or physical therapist, who will work out and follow an individualized therapy plan.
Patients are provided with equipment if needed for the therapy. There are different ways to get into the pool depending on the mobility of the patient. Usually, pools will be equipped with steps, a ramp and / or a hoist. A therapist should stay by the patient all the way through the session, helping, instructing and correcting, with gentle patience and encouragement.
The real helper to the patient, will be the patient themselves!
Since the therapy is pleasant, requires less exertion and is less painful than other types of therapy, the patient may feel more proactive and motivated. Less time will have to be spent persuading and encouraging the patient to perform the exercises. Gradually a patient’s muscles will grow stronger and he or she will be able to endure more. That means that a person will gradually be able to exercise for longer periods of time. The rehabilitation journey will become more rewarding as, with time and effort, the patient will see increasing progress.
What is Best for the Patient?
Several studies have been undertaken to compare the efficiency of therapy performed on dry land as compared with that done in water. Other studies have examined the topic in relation to weight loss. It seems there is more to be discovered yet by science an technology in this field.
The benefits of working in water for rehabilitation patients are so numerous that there is a lot to be gained by trying this form of therapy. The needs of the patient are many as well. Possibly, a combination of approaches will be suggested by the therapist. Physical therapy can be performed in a wet setting or in a dry setting. The incredible human brain benefits and ‘enjoys’ stimulation of different types. For this reason the different types of physical therapy complement each other and it is possible that a multi-faceted approach will promote even better progress in rehabilitation.