Benefits of Aquatic Therapy in the Rehabilitation Process

February 03, 2023

Multiracial couple attending water aerobics class in a swimming pool

Aquatic therapy has been used as a physical therapy method for thousands of years. In fact, there are records of its use as far back as ancient Egyptian and Mohammedan cultures. Today, aquatic therapy is performed under the supervision of specially trained physical therapists and is used to treat neurological disorders, spinal or musculoskeletal conditions, orthopedic disorders, pediatric disabilities and other conditions. Typically, aquatic therapy is one facet of a physical therapy and rehabilitation plan that also includes land-based therapies.

For those with disabilities, aquatic therapy can be especially valuable. The cycle of pain, depression and stress accompanying disabilities can lead patients to believe that exercise and fitness are impossible. But the unique properties of water make exercise and movement possible even for those with severe physical disabilities.

What is aquatic therapy?

Aquatic therapy is water-based physical therapy performed in a heated pool for rehabilitation after an injury or illness or for the treatment of chronic conditions. Treatment may take place as a patient floats or while partially or fully submerged in the pool. Swimmers and non-swimmers alike can benefit from aquatic therapy.

What conditions are treated with aquatic therapy?

The number of conditions that can benefit from aquatic therapy is vast. They include:

  • Post-surgical and post-injury rehabilitation of many kinds
  • Injuries requiring partial or non-weight bearing
  • Rheumatologic conditions like osteoarthritis
  • Chronic pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Knee, hip and ankle injuries
  • Shoulder injuries
  • Spinal cord injuries.
  • Musculoskeletal conditions
  • Traumatic brain injuries (TBI)
  • Low back pain
  • Stroke
  • Autism.
  • Chronic depression
  • Obesity
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Multiple Sclerosis

What are the benefits of aquatic therapy?

The buoyancy of water is the key to aquatic therapy. Patients incapable or uncomfortable exercising on land can perform physical therapy and exercise with little of the gravity they would otherwise experience. Patients are able to perform gait training with a variety of assistive devices (single point cane, rolling walker) without fear of injury.

Additionally, the hydrostatic pressure of water can assist with balance problems, allowing patients more time to react. Aquatic therapy also makes the respiratory muscles work harder, naturally strengthening the cardiovascular system.

Aquatic therapy also uses the benefits of heated water. When exercise is performed in a heated pool, the patient’s body temperature rises, dilating blood vessels and increasing blood flow throughout the body and to the targeted areas being treated. The water’s warmth can also reduce the sensitivity of sensory nerve endings, temporarily reducing pain.

Aquatic therapy is used to:

  • Decrease pain
  • Decrease swelling (edema)
  • Decrease abnormal tone, spasticity and rigidity
  • Improve range of motion
  • Reduce muscle spasms
  • Increase cardiovascular activity
  • Improve gait and locomotion
  • Reduce stress
  • Relax tight muscles and tendons
  • Improve range of motion
  • Improve function of spinal cord injury population
  • Re-train paralyzed muscles
  • Increase muscle strength
  • Increase joint flexibility
  • Improve circulation
  • Improve balance

For information on aquatic therapy at Good Shepherd Rehabilitation or to request an appointment, visit our web page or call 1-888-44-REHAB (73422).