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Understanding Aquatic Physical Therapy: What Is It and How Does it Help?

Young female therapist helping elderly woman stretch her arm in a pool during aquatic therapy.

When it comes to patient recovery, PVHC believes in delivering top-notch care options, like aquatic physical therapy, to help you get back to yourself sooner.

If you’re currently recovering from an illness or injury that requires rehabilitation and traditional physical therapy or independent exercise repeatedly causes a flare in symptoms, aquatic physical therapy may be a great option to meet your health and wellness goals.

Let’s dive deeper into understanding what aquatic physical therapy is and how it works.

What is aquatic physical therapy?

Aquatic physical therapy, or “pool therapy,” is exercise performed in the water. Aquatic therapy often enables patients to successfully perform exercises they likely could not do on land. It often takes place in modified pools that include supportive elements such as stairs, handrails, seating, chair lifts and water-specific exercise tools and equipment.

Progress during this phase often leads to more tolerance once returned to land-based programs and can serve to facilitate a more successful rehabilitation and recovery.

How does aquatic therapy help?

Water’s physical and restorative properties make aquatic therapy a safe, progressive form of rehabilitation, allowing patients to begin an early, more efficient recovery.

  1. Buoyancy – When submerged in water, buoyancy provides a gravity-free environment helping to support the weight of a patient and decrease the impact of exercise on the patient’s weight-bearing joints. In fact, exercising in waist-level water reduces weight-bearing forces by 50% — at chest level, it’s reduced by 75% — and at neck level, forces through the joints are reduced by 90%! This is of great benefit for those living with arthritis, obesity, or healing ligaments, tendons, and bones.
  2. Water Temperature – Aquatic physical therapy is performed in a pool with warm water. This helps relax muscles and increase blood flow to all areas of the body. This element is especially helpful for patients suffering from fibromyalgia, muscle pain, or injuries to the back or legs.
  3. Viscosity – Water brings about an untapped level of natural resistance. Exercising with water as the resistance can build endurance, strengthen muscles, and improve flexibility, doing so with less pressure, stress, and strain on the body. The gentle resistance offered by the water is beneficial for muscle-related injuries, balance problems, and heightened pain response.
  4. Hydrostatic Pressure –The hydrostatic pressure provided by water increases circulation, and in turn decreases joint and tissue swelling. This allows for less pain and joint loading during range of motion and strengthening exercises.

By incorporating the many benefits of aquatic therapy, our physical therapists can create a comprehensive treatment plan that meets each patient’s specific needs, and then, slowly and carefully, guide their recovery.

When is aquatic physical therapy beneficial?

Aquatic physical therapy is a treatment option for patients of all ages.

Conditions most often referred include patients with:

  • Advanced or severe arthritis
  • Chronic spinal, muscle or joint pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Deconditioning following prolonged illness, severe trauma or major surgery
  • Failed land-based rehabilitation

Is aquatic physical therapy right for me?

Certainly ask your physician or physical therapist if you think aquatic rehab might meet your needs.

Although suitable for many patients and many diagnoses, aquatic therapy is not recommended for those with:

  • Fevers or active infection
  • Bowel or bladder incontinence
  • Open or healing wounds
  • Fear of the water

Aquatic therapy is covered by Medicare when done in a Medicare-approved pool. Most other insurance plans also cover Aquatic therapy, but if they don’t, many pool programs offer cash rates.

After their insurance-based recovery is complete, many patients opt to remain as a cash patient, performing more independent or supervised group classes that will help maintain their fitness and health for the long-term.

Aquatic therapy is a fun and comfortable way to work out and offers many of the same benefits as land-based exercise with minimal risk.

PVHC houses two pools inside our physical therapy clinics at our La Verne and Chino Hills-Grand locations.

Both pools are Medicare-certified and offer:

  • Insurance-based Aquatic Therapy Programs
  • Cash-based Aquatic Wellness Exercise
  • Water temperatures of 86° to 90°F
  • Pool accessibility via stairs and chair lift
  • Pool depth of 3 feet to 5 feet
  • Changing rooms and shower

If you’re interested in exploring aquatic physical therapy, we’d be happy to introduce you to it! Contact us today to schedule your consultation. Your health and healing are our top priority.