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Aquatic Therapy; Water Rehabilitation

What is aquatic therapy or water rehabilitation?

Simply stated, aquatic therapy is using water for rehabilitation purposes.  The reality is aquatic therapy is far from a simple rehabilitation tool.

Aquatic therapy is both simple and complex.  It is simple because use is made of a naturally occurring medium which is readily available. It is complex because its usefulness and scope is limited only by the imagination of the treating therapist.

The human body has a special relationship with water. The body is made of 60-70% water.  The beginning of life through the embryological stages of development takes place in the womb where the embryo is immersed in amniotic fluid – basically water.  2/3 of the earth’s surface is covered by water. The only thing humans are dependent on more than water is air. Human life can carry on for one month without food, but only a few days at most without water. Water plays important roles in many religious ceremonies. 

Yes water is a special medium.

Aquatic therapy makes use of the many special properties of water to provide rehabilitation for a multitude of conditions, many of which would be difficult or impossible to rehabilitate on dry land.

One of the fundamental benefits of aquatic therapy involves making use of the buoyancy principle to decrease one’s body weight in the water and provide weight bearing exercises with much reduced stress on injured or diseased joints. Water supports limbs during exercise that would otherwise be too difficult or painful to support or move without the buoyancy effect. Aquatic therapy is also used to unload the spine and provide rest to muscles that normally work to support the body in the upright position while on land.

Due to the fact that buoyancy decreases the stability of the body in water, the need to stabilize the whole body is increased when performing aquatic therapy. In addition to the primary muscles being exercised, this principle causes engagement of muscle groups that provide the body with stability and balance. At the same time, due to the buoyancy of water, the amount of force required to accomplish this balancing is reduced making the initial phases of exercise intervention easy to initiate. This leads to both strength and stability being addressed simultaneously, increasing efficiency of aquatic therapy and water rehabilitation techniques over land based exercises.

Another important principle of water is its higher viscosity or resistance properties compared to air. This creates increased resistance when limbs move through the water compared to air. The resistance is dependent on speed of movement allowing the exerciser to continually adjust the resistance to their maximal ability.  This is a very special form of exercise called isokinetic exercise which maximizes ones efforts throughout a full range of motion while minimizing overuse of the affected limbs/joints.

 

Water also provides increased surface pressure to the body reducing swelling in injured or inflamed areas while providing a continual gentle massage during aqua-therapy.

Water can either cool or warm the body. Aquatic therapy can keep the body cool while exercising allowing one to have an intense aerobic workout and come out refreshed.  Due to the decreased heat load, many individuals with exercise restrictions due to cardiac, respiratory or other physiologic limitations may be able to perform aquatic therapy with fewer limitations compared to land based rehabilitation.  Warm water aquatic therapy can be used to help relieve stiffness in arthritic joints and tension in sore or overused muscles. 

In summary, water is an essential part of life which provides added exercise benefits through its special properties of buoyancy, resistance, hydrostatic pressure and temperature.  This property makes aquatic therapy completely versatile allowing the weakest and the strongest to maximize their rehabilitation and recovery efforts.

Many of the common conditions which benefit greatly by being treated with aquatic therapy include:

Osteoarthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis and other arthritidies

Osteoporosis and osteoporotic fractures

Disc herniations of the neck and back

Running injuries such as runners knee, shin splints, stress fractures, Achilles tendinosis (tendonitis), iliotibial band syndrome

Foot problems such as plantar fasciitis and tendonitis

Ankle joint sprains

Muscle strains including quadriceps, groin, hamstring and abdominal strains or tears

Chronic back and neck pain

Frozen shoulder

Fractures of the extremities and spine

Rotator cuff injuries

Pre operative joint replacement

Post operative joint replacements, rotator cuff repairs, ACL injuries

Obesity

Fibromyalgia

Chronic pain

And many more...

 

Water rehabilitation in the form of aquatic therapy is unfortunately not commonly available.

At the Toronto Centre for Sports Medicine we are pleased to offer aquatic therapy rehabilitation programs for all the conditions listed above and many more. We have been at the forefront of rehabilitation since our inception in 1992 and are committed to continue to provide our clients with the best in rehabilitation.

All patients are medically screened to ensure that aquatic therapy is safe for them.

 

See you at the pool!!

The Toronto Centre for Sports Medicine is a leading provider of sports medicine and rehabilitation services including physiotherapy, aquatic therapy, custom orthotics and custom made braces. We are centrally located in midtown Toronto at Yonge and Eglinton.