Aquatic therapy is a special type of physical therapy that involves exercising in water. People use physical therapy to recover from serious injuries, something that takes several months or years. However, aquatic therapy reduces chronic and acute pain, boost muscle performance, and speed recovery faster than physical therapy. Some other benefits of aquatic therapy include:
- Dulled sense of touch: The nervous system can respond to the slightest stimulus which is why when it is under constant stimulus (like the unusual pressure from water), the nervous system automatically dulls the part of the brain that deals with the tactile sensory neurons (reticular system). This can also dull muscle pain, which is a major problem of physical therapy.
- Resistance: Water offers constant resistance, unlike air. Aquatic exercises like water polo and swimming are some of the most energy-intensive workouts that can be engaged in. They allow total freedom of movement without needing bulky sets of resistance equipment. Aquatic therapy also does not always need people to stand as well as minimizes the possibility of falling.
- Hydrostatic pressure: Water constantly adjusts its shape to accommodate people’s movements. Using hydrostatic pressure, water compresses the joints, muscles, and skin, forcing the lungs and heart to work harder (because the chest cavity is placed under direct pressure). When an individual has chronic muscle aches, the hydroscopic pressure serves as a compression bandage for the whole body when the individual is submerged neck-deep. There are lots of benefits that can be derived from hydrostatic pressure.
- Improved circulation: The hydrostatic pressure keeps the heart under constant pressure. Water used for aquatic therapy is also kept at warmer-than-average temperatures, a temperature that improves circulation. As blood increasingly flows to the limbs, the rate of the healing process improves. People with weak heart muscles can benefit from aquatic therapy because it compensates for poor circulation since it gets oxygen-rich blood to all parts of the body.
- Rebuilding muscle memory: Water provides natural resistance and viscosity that forces the body to move more slowly. With this, aquatic therapy is provided an opportunity to rebuild muscle memory because the brain has more time to thoroughly process the signals from the muscles. An individual with impairment such as neuromuscular condition will have muscle re-education easier because of the presence of water.
- Easy access: When a physical therapist is working on a patient, he or she can only work on one side of the patient’s body at a time because the patient is typically lying on a bed or table (like in chiropractic treatment). However, aquatic therapy allows the therapist to work on all parts of the body, so there is no need to worry about turning around. Aquatic therapy makes it easier for both the patient and the therapist.
- Massage: The mild flow of water molecules, as well as the movement of the body in water, can serve as a natural form of massage. And with the use of equipment like aquatic gloves or water paddles, therapists can create gentle currents to work on specific parts of the body.
- Muscle relaxation: Warm water improves circulation of blood to the muscles. Increased blood flow gets rid of lactic acid from the muscles, thereby easing muscle soreness. Therefore, aquatic therapy relaxes the muscles.