Aquatic Therapy:

The Wonders of Water

By Kathleen Christ, LMT, NCMBT Aquatic Therapist

Water is a miracle and a joy to experience and the long-term effects continue on the land, but generally, a person suffers a debilitating injury or illness before discovering the rehabilitative effects of water. Especially important in a good program are warm water, gentle movements and soothing music.
Outcomes of aquatic therapy include improved balance, coordination and motor skills (excellent for fall prevention), increased chest expansion and cardio-respiratory activity, increased weight-bearing abilities, improved muscular endurance and strength, and decreased pain.

Therapy in the water works because of buoyancy, hydrostatic pressure, resistance and sensory stimulation. Water decreases joint-compression and force-reactions, therefore lessening arthritic- back- and chronic-pain, or pain caused by surgery or injury. Water diminishes the effect of gravity. When submerged to shoulder depth, our bodies experience a 90-percent apparent weight loss. Clients move without joint stress and increase flexibility because buoyancy assists movement.

Movement is also less painful because of hydrostatic pressure, which tends to decrease edema and increase circulation to deep muscle groups. Hydrostatic pressure also assists in stabilizing unstable joints. Water supports the body and eliminates the need for walking aids.

Hydrostatic pressure on the chest wall stimulates chest expansion and deeper ventilation, which increases cardio-respiratory activity. With sedentary patients, there is a gradual decline in vital capacity. Movement in the water can improve it.

Muscular strength and tone will improve from working against the variable water resistance. The more force used against the water, the more "weight" the water carries. Moving through the water resistance requires co-contraction of the abdominal and back muscles, teaching central stabilization. Balance, proprioception and coordination can all be improved.

Water can have a positive effect on osteoporosis and bone density. It was once thought that heavy impact was necessary to maintain youthful bone density. It is now understood that working against resistance is what is required.

Sensory stimulation of the water increases kinesthetic awareness of body parts and also promotes greater relaxation. Water temperature is important and should be 87°F to 92°F for best results.
The socializing aspect is significant as well and clients enjoy meeting others and moving in a pain reduced environment. Some of the clients' comments:


"It's rejuvenating!"

"It's addictive."

"My back no longer hurts."

"Rapid recovery from knee surgery."

"The music is soothing."

"Aquatic therapy before and after surgery - what a difference!"

"Our hair and makeup don't get wet."

"We like moving at our own pace."

"For all ages, male or female, it's a great mix."

The program that is suggested by the Arthritis and Fibromyalgia Foundations are walking, gentle stretching, muscle and strength endurance, and relaxation.

Water decreases joint-compression and force-reactions, therefore lessening arthritic- back- and chronic-pain, or pain caused by surgery or injury.