Anyone who has been injured knows their ability to perform their normal activities can temporarily change or even come to a halt. Returning to function can occur more quickly if rehabilitation is performed in the water.
How can water make such a change? Water has multiple properties which assist activity to make it easier. These properties include buoyancy, hydrostatic pressure, and viscosity. Buoyancy counteracts the force of gravity in water, thereby decreasing the effect of weight bearing on the injured body part and allowing for strengthening exercises to be performed without further injury or pain. Viscosity of water offers resistance against the body’s movements for strengthening. Because of the increased resistance of water as compared to air, viscosity causes “slow motion” movement, allowing longer time for the injured body part to respond to the movement and allowing proper form. Hydrostatic pressure is the force of the water against the body part placed in the water. The deeper the body part is in the water, the greater the effect of hydrostatic pressure. Hydrostatic pressure is an excellent way to decrease swelling without ice or elevation. In the aquatic environment, exercise and injury rehabilitation can be performed at the same time swelling reduction is occurring.
Most orthopedic injuries could benefit from aquatic treatment. People with non-weight bearing or decreased weight bearing status can progress quickly into a full weight bearing environment when beginning in their rehab in the aquatic environment. Ankle fractures that are no longer casted and are stable would benefit from the strengthening and walking with the proper gait pattern that the aquatic environment provides. Back pain, with or without nerve impingement, can be relieved and the spine can be stabilized with less pain when performed in the aquatic environment.
Although there are many benefits to treatment in the aquatic environment, not all injuries require this treatment medium. If aquatic treatment is indicated, these treatments alone can not solve the problem. As we do not live in water, exercises on land are extremely important and are needed to maintain the gains made and prevent further injury. A combination of land and aquatic treatments are ideal before discharge from your course of rehabilitation.
If you have questions regarding aquatic physical therapy, you may contact Amy Adams, MPT, Co-Director of Aquatic Physical Therapy at Progressive Physical Therapy.