Hydrotherapy is form of physical therapy that’s performed in water. It is an excellent way for you to gain the benefits of exercise without putting a lot of impact on your joints. If you have an orthopedic condition, hydrotherapy can allow you to perform exercises you might not be able to manage on dry land.
With hydrotherapy, you effectively feel lighter. That’s because the water is supporting some of your weight. That reduced weight decreases the stress of the training session and can allow you to perform exercises that would be too difficult on land.
Michael Utter is the sports medicine coordinator for Banner Sports Medicine. He said, “Hydrotherapy exercises can be as simple as walking in shallow water or as complicated as deep-water aerobics.”
Here’s how hydrotherapy can help
The reduced weight and impact of hydrotherapy can make it beneficial for a wide range of different people and conditions. With it, for example:
- A 60-year-old with knee osteoarthritis can walk and exercise comfortably, improving their health without damaging their knee.
- An 18-year-old runner with a hamstring strain can get back to running earlier in their rehab.
- A 30-year-old marathoner with shin splints can continue training while “deloading” or reducing the stress of their injury in the pool.
- A 23-year-old basketball player with an ankle sprain can speed recovery by practicing jumping in the water before they are ready to jump on land.
- A 55-year-old who had a knee replacement can take a water aerobics class while they are recovering, protecting the new knee as it heals.
- A 40-year-old with obesity can burn more calories during a workout due to reducing or eliminating the joint pain that often accompanies obesity.
Here’s what to expect in a hydrotherapy session
Hydrotherapy sessions are similar to dry-land sessions with a physical therapist, except in a pool. Over time, with hydrotherapy, you should be able to perform more exercises and work out at a higher intensity, just as you would with traditional therapy.
If you’re recovering from an injury, you might have several hydrotherapy sessions at the start of the rehab process. As you heal, you might scale back on hydrotherapy and gradually return to your regular activities.
If you’re dealing with a chronic condition like arthritis, you may want to stick with hydrotherapy long-term so that you can exercise at a higher intensity without pain. And if you’re obese and trying to lose weight, you may want to start with hydrotherapy and mix in more land-based workouts as your weight loss progresses.
“Hydrotherapy can help you stick with your exercise regimens through the aches and pains of life,” Utter said.
Hydrotherapy isn’t just for orthopedic problems
You can get the benefits of an aquatics therapy workout on your own—just go to your local public or backyard pool and walk laps. It’s best to walk in the shallow end, so you can try hydrotherapy even if you aren’t a great swimmer. You can also look for water aerobics classes or other water-based programs in your area.
The pressure of the water against your body—called hydrostatic pressure—can also help decrease swelling, whether the swelling stems from an injury like an ankle sprain or a condition like diabetes, where fluid can accumulate in your legs. The water pressure can increase blood flow and help lymphatic fluid move through your body.
The bottom line
Hydrotherapy is a great way to speed up recovery from orthopedic injuries or surgeries, and to exercise if you’re coping with a chronic condition like arthritis. If you’d like to find an expert who can get you started at a hydrotherapy location near you, Banner Health can help.
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