Making a Splash: Is Aquatic Therapy for You?
Article by: Heather Stewart, PTA
What is Aquatic Therapy?
Aquatic therapy is a form of therapy where exercises are performed in water. The unique properties of water allow individuals to benefit as they would with land based therapy only with less weight on the joints, reduced inflammation, less pain and discomfort, and resistance without the pull of gravity. Not to mention it's fun.
Properties of Water:
Buoyancy: assists in supporting your weight which decreases the amount of weight-bearing which reduces the force of stress placed on the joints. By decreasing the amount stress on the joints it is easier and less painful to perform exercises. This also allows individuals to perform exercises with supported motions of the body that they may not otherwise be able to perform on land.
Viscosity: resistance coupled with the water’s buoyancy to help strengthen muscles, improve posture, and increase joint stability without stress on the joints and without the need for weights.
Hydrostatic Pressure: pressure exerted by the water on a submerged body or body part that assists in decreasing joint and soft tissue swelling along with providing joint positional awareness for proprioception.
Temperature: warmth of the water assist with relaxing the muscles, increasing blood flow, and reducing pain.
Who Can Benefit?
Along with these properties aquatic therapy also provides a safe environment for those who lack coordination and balance, provides mobility for those with spasticity or lack of tone, improves sensory processing skills, assists with improving appetites for dietary changes, and increases confidence with social interaction. As you can see, there are many benefits to aquatic therapy. Individuals who can benefit from aquatic therapy are those with:
Low back pain/Neck pain
Acute/chronic injuries (soft tissue injuries, auto accident injuries, etc.)
Orthopedic injuries/Sports injuries (sprains and strains)
Pre/Post surgical (total joint replacements, post mastectomy, etc.)
Neurological conditions (Cerebral Palsy, Muscular Dystrophy, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson's, Stroke, etc.)
Pediatric developmental delays
There are different methods and treatment approaches to aquatic therapy in order to achieve the best outcome for each individual. Below are just a few of the methods that are most applied in clinics and offered here.
Watsu is a form of deep relaxation and passive motion in an aquatic setting. This aquatic technique is performed with one-on-one sessions in which the therapist gently holds rhythmically moves, stretches, and massages a individual in warm water. Watsu along with the effects of the warm water allows for muscle relaxation to reduce muscle spasms and to help an individual recover from an injury or disability.
Bad Ragaz Ring Method (BRRM):
Bad Ragaz helps to stretch myofascial tissue and restore join mobility while improving muscle function. This is a one-on-one technique performed in the aquatic setting in which the therapist aides an individual in strengthening and mobilizing exercises while the individual lies horizontally with support from floatation devices. The therapist guides the individual through specific patterns of resistance and movement to allow for specific muscles to elongate and to further allow the weak muscles to function again.
The Burdenko Method is a combination of both water and land based exercises incorporating the six essential qualities of movement for everyday life, fitness, and sport: balance, coordination, flexibility, endurance, speed/quickness, and strength. This method typically starts solely with aquatic exercises and progresses to combination of water and land exercises and finally to all land based exercises to achieve optimum results through rehabilitation. Each program is individualized for training, conditioning, and rehabilitation. This approach helps prevents injuries, accelerates recovery from injuries, and maximizes strength and stability.
If you are not in therapy and you are wondering if your child may be falling behind with developmental milestones, please try our online screening tool. You will be given a survey of age-appropriate milestones for speech, language, gross motor skills, fine motor skills and sensory processing for children ages 1-6.