What are the benefits of aquatic physical therapy? Consider getting wet in order to get better.

with advice from Kelly Lenz, PT
and Blair J. Packard, PT, MS

 What are the benefits of aquatic physical therapy?

When most people think of physical therapy, they probably think of treadmills and stationary bikes, hand weights and elastic bands — plus the medical tables on which patients can be treated. Without getting wet.

So why might aquatic physical therapy be just as beneficial, or even better?

“Aquatic therapy allows a gravity-reduced environment in which to exercise,” explains Kelly Lenz, a physical therapist and co-owner of Clinton Physical Therapy Center, a Physiquality network clinic in Tennessee. “This allows a variety of patients to move more freely without undue stress on their body.”

Buoyancy can be used to assist, support or resist motion. Image used with permission from East Valley Physical Therapy.This is possible because of one special property of water: buoyancy. Because of buoyancy, the gravitational forces on the body are reduced, giving some patients immediate pain relief. “Buoyancy can be used to assist, support or resist motion,” says physical therapist Blair J. Packard, the co-owner of East Valley Physical Therapy, a Physiquality member in Arizona. “It also opposes gravity to provide spinal and joint unloading.”

There are other benefits to doing therapy in a pool as compared to on land:

  • Patients who are only able to do traditional exercises for a short period of time are often able to exercise for longer periods of time, with more intensity.
  • Patients with poor balance do well in the water as the water helps support them — and if they do fall, the water slows down the fall.
  • Patients with edema often see a reduction in swelling, as the water pressure increases venous return to the heart.

Aquatic therapy is especially helpful for patients with lower extremity injuries or issues. Image used with permission from Clinton Physical Therapy Center.Aquatic therapy can help a variety of patients, but Kelly notes that it’s especially helpful for those with lower extremity injuries or issues — arthritis in the knees or hips, leg fractures where patients are just starting to put weight on the bone again, or pain in the lower back or lumbar spine. It’s also been shown to help patients with disorders like Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis. And the American Physical Therapy Association points out that a pool is the perfect environment for aging individualsthat have the normal degeneration that occurs with aging.

Don’t worry if you don’t know how to swim — therapy in a pool is used to improve function, mobility, strength and balance, not actual swimming. Most pools are fairly shallow in order to allow the patients and therapists to stand and walk in the water. For example, Blair points out, the depths in the pool at East Valley PT range from three and a half feet to five feet. And if patients are still uncomfortable with the water, special adaptive equipment will help them keep their head above the water’s edge.

Not all physical therapy clinics offer aquatic therapy, and even if your physical therapist does offer it, it may not be the best treatment for your condition. But if your PT suggests getting into the pool to become stronger and improve your health, consider getting wet in order to get better.

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How physical therapists can help seniors increase activity for healthy aging

Aging isn’t fun for anyone. Your memory starts to fade, your body slows down and gains weight, and your joints start to stiffen. And while no one can reverse or stop the aging process, one of the best ways to reduce the speed at which your body is changing is to be more active.

“As the years go by, staying active becomes one of the key factors in staying independent, pain-free and feeling good,” says Randy Gustafson, a physical therapist and the owner of Physiquality member Mesa Physical Therapy in San Diego, California. Exercise is known to help prevent and reduce such problems as heart disease, diabetes, and stroke, along with its more obvious benefits of increasing strength and reducing — or at least maintaining — weight. And, Randy points out, better health from increased activity often allows patients to reduce their reliance on some medications, allowing patients to take them less frequently or sometimes quit them altogether.

If you want to exercise more but haven't done so in a while, walking is an easy activity to begin with.If you want to exercise more but haven’t done so in a while, walking is an easy activity to begin with. It’s low-impact and has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attacks. It doesn’t require training or special equipment, just a good pair of shoes. And it’s easy to measure your progress with a pedometer, or even simply timing your walks.

Mika Yoshida, a certified strength and conditioning specialist, recommends the Arthritis Foundation’s Walk With Ease program as a way to measure progress. As a fitness instructor at the Take Charge Fitness Program at Clinton Physical Therapy Center, a Physiquality member in Clinton, Tennessee, she often works with patients who are uneasy about returning to exercise after an injury or chronic illness. The Walk With Ease program offers local groups, where patients can walk with others hoping to improve their health, and guidelines if people prefer to create their own program. Read More

 

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I have arthritis. Can I exercise? Should I?

Arthritis is one of the more common conditions, especially as people age. According to the CDC, as many as 50 million adults in the U.S., or 1 in 5, have been diagnosed with arthritis, and the numbers are expected to grow as our population ages. While there are many types of arthritis, the most prevalent is osteoarthritis, caused by the wearing away of cartilage in joints, especially the knees and hips.

Arthritis can be extremely painful and often debilitating. According to David P. Thompson, a physical therapist at Allegheny Chesapeake Physical Therapy (a Physiquality member in Pennsylvania), “Patients with arthritis frequently report a variety of symptoms, including pain, stiffness, swelling, warmth in the joint, aching, joint deformity, difficulty with bearing weight, trouble with walking, and general loss of function.”  Read more