What is Aquatic Physical Therapy?
According to the Academy of Aquatic Physical Therapy, aquatic physical therapy is “the evidence-based and skilled practice of physical therapy in an aquatic environment by a physical therapist.” The term itself encompasses a broad scope of small components that make up the full therapeutic experience. Everything from prevention to actual rehabilitation and treatment falls underneath the therapy umbrella.
Water therapy for injury treatment can look different depending on you, your physical therapist, the equipment they have at their disposal, and even the specifications of their pool, however based on some core common principles aquatic programs will share some commonalities. Patient’s treatment is easily tailored to suit their specific needs and goals based on present ability, and history with injuries. The end goal of aquatic physical therapy will always be to get the patient back functioning on land once again.
What Sorts of Injuries Usually Require Aquatic Physical Therapy?
An individual may benefit from aquatic therapy for various reasons — and not all of them even have to do with injuries! Typically, aquatic physical therapy is geared towards meeting the needs of patients who have trouble tolerating physical therapy on land. For some patients, it may be too painful to do exercises on land due to joint pain from arthritis; others may have weight bearing related issues that causes pain and keep them from reaching their full potential out of the water.
The takeaway here is that aquatic physical therapy offers a host of benefits for a large variety of people from high level athletes to post surgical patients. Those with stress fractures, which are especially common amongst athletes, tend to experience significant relief from aquatic therapy. Patients that have experienced acute back injury or even the chronic frozen shoulder will oftentimes see quicker recovery times when water therapy is involved in their treatment than when it isn’t.
How Does Aquatic Physical Therapy Work?
As mentioned previously, aquatic physical therapy can look vastly different from one patient or practice to the next. Certified physical therapists use and rotate between innumerable exercise options; they also have the specifications of their pool to work with. Many facilities that offer aquatic physical therapy have pools of varying depths to allow for more or less of the patient’s weight to be temporarily relieved.
Patients may perform any number of tasks ranging from walking to individual leg and arms exercises. Many physical therapists opt to allow patients with significant amounts of pain to float in the deep end of a pool for some decompression of the spine. The unweighting of the spine thanks to the buoyancy of the water oftentimes gives patients an instant level of relief that allows them better tolerance for completing exercises. The level of relief patients may experience from this depends on the depth of the pool they’re using. It’s commonly accepted that with water at chest level, a patient is 80% unweighted; at the three-foot level, they are 50% unweighted, and so on.
Aquatic Therapy Treatment plans begin specific to each individual patients’ needs. In cases where the patient is incapable of regaining mobility on land, progressions will be worked into the program in hopes of achieving that goal. Over time and as dictated by patient tolerance an aquatic physical therapist will work with a patient to progress from primarily pool visits to more frequent land visits then from land only to discharge to home program. Ultimately, our goal is to maximize the patient’s function on land then help them become independent with caring for themselves.
How Aquatic Physical Therapy Benefits Patients
Aquatic physical therapy methodology has been developed to give patients the best chance possible at reclaiming (or in some cases attaining) a high quality of life. Water therapy is utilized by healthcare providers every day to help their patients regain or achieve a variety of things, a few of which include:
- Body Awareness
- Muscle strength and endurance
- Proper gait
Patients are offered custom, tailor-made solutions to their pain and mobility issues. Somebody who’s suffering the effects of a lifetime of bad posture will likely need a very different treatment plan from somebody who was at the bottom of a pileup on the freeway.
Getting patients off of land and into the pool relieves pain and provides the mobility necessary to complete life-changing exercises. Without the option of de-loading some weight through the aquatic principle of buoyancy, patients with especially traumatic injuries or exceptionally severe pre-existing conditions may not tolerate PT treatment on land.
The benefits of water therapy for injury treatment are undeniable. Those who struggle with traditional physical therapy or to function in their daily lives will often see a great improvement in the quality of their health and living situations through the implementation of aquatic physical therapy. If you’re interested in exploring aquatic therapy as an option for injury or disease treatment, contact us today to schedule your evaluation or visit our Covington location. We’d be happy to work with you to develop a treatment plan to meet your specific needs so that you can get back to your life sooner.