Aquatic Therapy: How Water Can Be Used to Heal

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Aquatic physical therapy is a method of rehabilitation that is widely used all over the world.  It combines the principles of hydrostatic pressure, buoyancy, and viscosity/resistance to help patients recover from a wide array of diagnoses including chronic low back pain, sprained ankles, Guillain-Barré Syndrome and even stroke.

Aquatic Physical therapy
Woman doing physical therapy exercises in the water with a physiotherapist working to relieve pressure on certain areas of the body while building strength in others. Photo: Getty Images

Aquatic Therapy: Using Water to Help Heal the Body

As an aquatic physical therapist increases the depth of the injured, or affected body part in water, the amount of hydrostatic pressure applied to the area increases. Hydrostatic pressure helps reduce inflammation, increases circulation and reduces pain in the affected area.

Gravity is essentially reversed when we are submerged in water. This is due to the laws of buoyancy, making for an ideal environment to safely strengthen weak muscles.  When a patient stands submerged in water up to his/her neck, the body is only 10%-20% weight-bearing compared to when standing on land. This enables aquatic therapy patients to walk and exercise for longer periods of time with less pain.

Read about:  Water therapy for Parkinson’s patients

Water therapy treadmill
Under water treadmills help clients keep weight off affected areas of their body to build strength in other areas. Photo: Getty Images

Depth & Resistance Matter in Aquatic Therapy

The viscosity of water in aquatic therapy adds a resistance component to each therapy session. Resistance from water effectively strengthens muscle while performing an activity.  Clinicians may progress a patient’s therapeutic exercises by utilizing paddles or accelerating the speed of an activity, to make it more difficult and increase the results.

Aquatic therapy is typically conducted in a heated therapy pool such as a Hydroworx Pool or tank equipped with an underwater treadmill. Some therapists even use a simple swimming pool. Some pools are filled with salt water while others are treated with either chlorine or bromine.  No matter which facility, the benefits of aquatic therapy are substantial. If you’re a waterman or woman looking to heal an injury, aquatic therapy may be a beneficial aspect to your overall treatment.

Read: Stand Up Paddling for Lower Back Pain, by Jodelle Fitzwater

Elaina Franklin: In my happy place! Aquatic therapy
Elaina Franklin in Clearwater, Florida believes in aquatic therapy after a long, training paddle. Letting yourself float has multiple benefits 😉

Although aquatic therapy is usually safe for most diagnoses, always ask your doctor or physical therapist if aquatic therapy is the right treatment for you.

Written by, Nicole Glasser

Nicole Glasser Long Beach stand up paddling
Nicole Glasser, Long Beach NY waterwoman

About Nicole Glasser

Nicole Glasser is a Long Beach, NY waterwoman with a healthy obsession for all things stand up paddling related.  Whether she’s paddling the glassy bays of Long Island, charging the rapids of the James River, or paddle surfing the waves of La Jolla Shores, one thing for sure is that Nicole loves to travel the world in search of her next paddle adventure.

After graduating Cum Laude from the Fashion Institute of Technology and working as a runway designer for Michael Kors and Ralph Lauren, Nicole left the fashion industry to pursue a career in health care. Nicole is now a licensed Aquatic Physical Therapist Assistant and devotes her career helping others recover from their diagnoses, using the properties of water to assist in the rehab process.  She is also a certified yoga and SUP instructor who encourages others to enjoy the benefits of a healthy outdoor lifestyle.

Living three blocks from the ocean, Nicole loves to hike, paint, swim, read, write and play fetch with her dog Ollie in her free time.  She enjoys helping others in her community through volunteer work for non-profit organizations and taking photographs of water, nature and her paddling trips. Nicole has been paddleboarding for almost a decade and is stoked to contribute to Standup Journal!