Editor’s Note: Today’s post is written by Jennifer Schachner, PT, DPT.
With summer officially here and the beautiful and unseasonably warm days we have had over the last months, many of us have probably been daydreaming about days spent at the beach, or we have already been splashing around and relaxing at a pool in our spare time. But did you know that for the 50 million Americans affected by arthritis in one of its many forms, being in water can be more than just summer-time fun? Here are the top three benefits of aquatic therapy.
Decreases Stress on Joints
Water drastically reduces the stress placed through joints through the principles of buoyancy. Buoyancy is an upward force exerted by liquid, gas, or other fluid that opposes the weight of an immersed object. In practical terms, a 200-pound male would weigh about 16-20 pounds in fresh water. If we consider that every one pound of body weight exerts 4-5 pounds of force through the knees, these are really big numbers for our patients! With decreased stress and load being placed through joints, exercise is easier and less painful to perform. This is hugely beneficial for people who have lost range of motion, flexibility, and strength due to pain, and have otherwise limited function and mobility on dry land.
Reduces Swelling and Improves Proprioception
Another benefit of being in water is due to the result of hydrostatic pressure. As therapists, we can use this principle to help reduce swelling and to improve proprioception in our patients. In applicable terms, the deeper a limb is submerged in water, the greater the compressive force that is placed on that limb. This helps aide in venous return and creates a comfortable and easily tolerable compression, which assists in decreasing joint and soft-tissue edema. Also, because pressure is produced perpendicular to the body’s surface, the constant contact on the skin helps patients become more aware of where their arms and legs are in space and time. This is important in patients who are compensating and have poor postural awareness due to chronic arthritic conditions.
Strengthens Muscles without Weights
Using water’s resistance, coupled with water’s buoyancy, patients can strengthen muscle groups with decreased joint stress that would not be possible on land. In patient care, this allows for muscle strengthening without the need of weights.
Not everyone has the luxury of being near and having easy access to a pool. We at Athletico have the unique opportunity to reach and treat a large number of people who may benefit from this type of therapy at one of our 6 locations offering aquatic therapy including Addison, Bannockburn, Buffalo Grove, Hoffman Estates, Palatine, and Willowbrook. We love summer, the pool, the sunny weather, and everything that it brings, but let’s keep in mind the people whose quality of life we can positively affect through the incorporation of aquatic therapy!