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Is Aquatic Therapy just exercise in water?

Aquatic therapy (hydrotherapy) has evolved somewhat from passive warm water immersion in its beginnings in 2400 BC. Today aquatic therapy is much more than just exercise in water. It is developed into an interesting mix of techniques used to relax, strengthen, mobilise and enhance function. The unique therapeutic benefits of water include warm temperature for relaxation, buoyancy for weight reduction, hydrostatic pressure for cardiovascular function improvements and the drag resistance of water can strengthen muscles as effectively as on dry land.


Complementary to regular physiotherapy, aquatic therapy can be useful for the patient who is only partial weightbearing and is restricted on dry land. Depending on the water height, the load on the weightbearing joint surfaces can be reduced to as little as 10% at head out of water level and increased to 50% when immersed to hip level. Functionally this would translate to a patient being able to mobilise independently without walking aids in a safe environment at an early stage in their rehabilitation following lower limb surgery or injury. It will also help those patients who, because of muscle weakness, struggle to keep their trunk upright. At the other end of the rehabilitation spectrum, aquatic plyometric training has shown to improve athletic performace without elevating the risk of soft tissue injury often associated with dry land plyometrics.

Hydrostatic pressure helps with blood circulation, and this will support muscle function. The magnitude of the resistance can be varied depending on the choice and size of resistive equipment used such as paddles, flippers, kickboards etc. The speed of the movement will also affect the workload on the exercising muscle. Another example of an aquatic strengthening technique is the Bad Ragaz method, which allows the aquatic therapist to use Peripheral Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) techniques in the water. 


Water also provides a safe environment for functional postural balance activities as it allows for training without the risk of falling. Walking at varying speeds & directions and at differing depths will all work towards achieving someone’s functional independence goal. Here again, the water caters for all abilities and allows runners to cross-train or use Deep Water Running (DWR) techniques to aid their rehabilitation and to maintain their fitness.


And last but not least, water is an excellent medium for relaxation. Ai Chi is a form of aquatic exercise which involves movements performed in slow motions accompanied by deep breathing which allows for total body strengthening and relaxation. 


As you can see Aquatic Therapy is so much more than exercise in water. Do get in touch if you would like to know more about Aquatic Therapy or to see if a different treatment approach could help you. 

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