In today’s age, the volume of physical therapy services available at our fingertips is unending. Because of this, finding one that fits your needs and allows you to effectively return to a healthy routine can be a challenge. We compare it to shoe shopping. With so many different styles and fits, finding the one shoe that’ll rocket you to the moon requires some effort.
Likewise, finding your ideal therapy provider requires the same amount of energy. In most cases, our primary physicians can be a great starting point, but without the right questions and insight, you may end up back where you began. For this reason, it’s important to go a step further and connect with a local physical therapy provider like ATI to see what options are available to you.
When arriving at the rehabilitation phase of your recovery, the ultimate goal is to choose a no-risk therapy that’ll lessen recovery times, while still getting you back to an uninterrupted lifestyle. Typically, your rehabilitation options will range from a menu of traditional flat land therapies, which are still extremely effective injury recovery solutions. However, many people aren’t aware that their options don’t have to stop there.
Thanks to advancements in technologies and accessibility, a lesser-publicized therapy, known as aquatic therapy, is steadily becoming a highly endorsed secondary option for a range of injury cases. Given the countless mental and physical benefits provided through H2O, everyone from elite-level athletes, to stroke survivors are benefitting from this low-impact, high-return therapy.
Here at ATI, aquatic therapy is available at a handful of our locations, so we had the opportunity to catch up with one of our aquatic experts, Danielle Debulgado, from our Aurora, Ill., clinic to learn more about the benefits of this increasingly favored therapy option.
Can aquatic therapy still yield the same outcomes as traditional therapies?
Simply put, yes! The buoyancy property of the water tremendously helps decrease the degree of weight-bearing, which ultimately lessens stress placed on the joints. When we say ‘weight-bearing’, we are referring to the ability of the body to resist or support weight. For example, in chest-high water, the body is roughly 35 percent weight-bearing, meaning the body feels 65 percent-less weight than it would on land.
Aquatic therapy is also a great segue into land-based therapies, especially for back surgery patients who are restricted to wearing a Thoracic Lumbosacral Orthosis (TLSO) and limited in performance of land exercise. With the help of aquatic therapy, these patients are able to start with light aquatic exercise to prevent total deconditioning. Eventually, the aquatic exercise will allow patients to gain strength and range of motion, which can make the transition to land-based PT much easier.
Who benefits the most from aquatic therapy treatments?
While aquatic therapy can benefit just about anyone, we find that it is a favorable alternative therapy for individuals who are unable to tolerate traditional land-based exercises. It can also be beneficial for patients diagnosed with back and lower extremity ailments, fibromyalgia, gait and balance deficits and people dealing with weight-bearing restrictions.
Why are more physicians turning to aquatic therapy instead of traditional therapies?
For patients unable to achieve their goals in land-based therapies, whether it is due to high pain levels, low tolerance or severe restrictions, aquatic therapy is a second chance at a successful recovery. To that, post-surgical patients who would otherwise be restricted with land-based treatments can start with aquatic based therapies earlier in their recovery to prevent deconditioning and help transition them to land-based treatment – ultimately resulting in favored outcomes.
Aquatic therapy is said to speed up the recovery period faster than land-based therapies, why is this?
Due to the decreased weight-bearing conditions of the aquatic environment, aquatic therapy allows patients to move with less restriction and less stress on their body. Because of this, a patient with severe Osteoarthritis may not be able to walk the stairs in their home; however, since their body weight decreases in the water, they may be able to perform step-ups
in an aquatic environment. Consequently, this allows for increased activation of the proper muscles needed to improve the step-up motion, which ultimately can help improve the patient’s ability to perform stair negotiation in the home.
Also, as we mentioned, post- or pre-surgical patients that would otherwise be restricted in their ability to perform land-based therapy, are able to begin therapy sooner in the water. In doing this, water therapy helps increase the patient’s ability to start proper muscle recruitment and increase range of motion without increased pain.
What are some lesser-known benefits of aquatic therapy?
Few are aware, but aquatic therapy can be great for patients diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). Typically, patients with MS would perform aquatic exercises in a colder temperature pool as opposed to a warmer therapeutic pool as warmer temperatures are not the most conducive environment for a patient with MS.
Aquatic therapy is also beneficial for patients with stress reactions/fractures, which are most common among athletes, especially runners. In fact, for injured athletes refusing to surrender their on-the-go freedoms, exercising in an aquatic environment enables a continuation of conditioning – you can even run in the water, without increasing stress.
And for patients experiencing weakness and pain from nerve damage in the hands and feet, often referred to as peripheral neuropathy, aquatic therapy can be a helpful remedy. The hydrostatic pressure property of the water helps to decrease the swelling in these areas and improve proprioceptive awareness (internal body awareness).
How long will a standard aquatic therapy session last?
Depending on a patient’s tolerance, an aquatic therapy session can typically last anywhere from 25-75 minutes.
Are there any drawbacks to aquatic therapy?
The most recognizable drawback to any activity in the water is drowning, which is why supervision is necessary whenever you get in the water. It’s also important to remember that while the water allows us to perform exercises with ease given the lessened weight-bearing conditions, your body is still working and pushing. Doing too much, too fast can cause extreme muscle fatigue resulting in soreness. Adding to that, outside of the pool, your body is back experiencing full weight-bearing conditions, so you’ll need to engage in transitional recovery training to avoid negatively impacting your joints, muscles and bones.
With any recovery effort, ultimately, the goal is to see results without the stress, and given the layers of physical and mental benefits afforded through aquatic therapy, it’s no surprise why more clinicians and patients are getting behind this treatment option. To find out if aquatic therapy can help you, contact your nearest ATI Physical Therapy clinic today!