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Aquatic Therapy Benefits People with Parkinson’s Disease

June 26, 2018

people doing aquatic therapy

Most people are aware that exercising in the water offers great benefits for people with joint issues, such as arthritis. But aquatic therapy also helps people with neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease (PD), according to Asare Christian, MD, MPH, Associate Outpatient Medical Director, Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network.

“In the wake of former Governor Ed Rendell’s candid discussion about his experience with Parkinson’s, it is important for people with the disease to understand the full breadth of treatment options now available to them,” says Dr. Christian. “Our goal is to slow the progression of the disease, improve overall function and enhance the patient’s quality of life to maintain independence longer.”

In the United States, 50,000 to 60,000 new cases of Parkinson’s disease are diagnosed each year, in addition to the one million people who currently have PD. Symptoms include shaking or tremors at rest, slowness of movement, stiffness or rigidity of the arms, legs or trunk and trouble with balance.

While there is no cure for Parkinson’s, research shows that therapy and exercising in an aquatic environment helps people with PD to improve balance and mobility, reduce motor dysfunction and improve quality of life. Benefits include:

  • The warmth of the water acts as a therapeutic medium to reduce rigidity, stiffness and pain that Parkinson’s patients often experience.
  • The buoyancy aids people who lack postural support or balance and allows them to perform range-of-motion and strengthening exercises that they may not be able to complete on land.
  • Movements require less effort in the water, which helps conserve energy.
  • The turbulence of the water acts to challenge balance and coordination to improve walking and overall stability for daily tasks.

Eight Good Shepherd locations throughout the Lehigh Valley have warm-water pools for aquatic therapy. Before beginning, a physical therapist certified in aquatic therapy performs an assessment to determine if the program is appropriate for the individual. The physical therapist will then develop a personalized plan of care to address functional deficits identified by the evaluation.

The exercises are performed one-on-one with a physical therapist or physical therapy assistant in the water and are modified as the participant’s needs change. These adaptations help keep muscles balanced and prevent falls.

In addition to aquatic therapy, Good Shepherd offers a variety of therapy and services specifically  tailored to individuals with Parkinson’s, including  physical medicine and rehabilitation physicians who coordinate a plan of care to restore function, therapeutic boxing, occupational and physical therapy, wellness programs, support groups and neuropsychologists who are trained to support individuals with chronic illness such as Parkinson’s.


Media Contact:
Lynn Gerlach
[email protected]