Help for Arthritis May be Found Underwater
What is arthritis?
Arthritis is a disease that affects many individuals of varying ages. The most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. In both cases, the cartilage that covers the ends of the bones breaks down. When this occurs, pain, loss of movement and inflammation can occur. In some cases, the joint becomes deformed and can no longer function normally.
How is arthritis treated?
Treatment for arthritis varies depending on the severity of the symptoms or disease. Initially, treatment for inflammation, such as heat or ice, gentle motion and medications may be effective. Patients with more advanced arthritis may need:
- Bracing to control or prevent further damage and/or deformity
- Education, regarding positioning at work and with activities, sleeping and posture, to prevent flare ups
- Regular appropriate exercise to maintain or increase joint range of motion and muscle tone or strength
One arthritis treatment option that may be under-utilized, but is very beneficial, is aquatic or pool exercise.
How can aquatic exercise help patients with arthritis?
In water, patients suffering from arthritis can move easier with less pain. One key factor is warm water. The ideal water temperature for an arthritic patient is approximately 91-94 degrees Fahrenheit. The warm water not only feels good, but it helps to increase circulation and warm tissues.
- The buoyancy of the water reduces weight or pressure through the spine and joints.
- Hydrostatic pressure helps to reduce swelling in the lower legs.
- Depending on the exercise direction, water can also help by either increasing or decreasing motion resistance. Specially designed water exercise devices can also be used for this purpose.
- When suspended in deep water, the legs can perform exercises without the usual joint forces experienced when weight bearing. Muscles become stronger without the harmful effect of gravity and weight.
Underwater exercise equipment, such as treadmills and bikes, also can be beneficial to those suffering from arthritis. Underwater treadmills reduce weight on affected lower leg joints, which makes normal walking less painful. Underwater bikes can assist in increasing ankle and knee movement.
What is the role of a physical therapist in aquatic therapy?
A physical therapist will complete a comprehensive evaluation and screen for any condition that would render a particular line of treatment undesirable. He or she will then design an appropriate pool exercise program to address the patient’s pain, limited movement and weakness.
Patients who suffer from chronic conditions, such as arthritis, benefit from a commitment to ongoing, appropriate exercise and movement. When professional supervision is no longer necessary, patients should find an independent or group water exercise program in order to continue to improve or maintain his or her new level of function.
Consult a professional before beginning any exercise program.
For more information about Good Shepherd’s Aquatic Programs, call 1-888-44-REHAB or contact us.