Jill Murphy, DPT, LAT, CSCS
Question: For what type of injuries is pool therapy helpful?
Answer: Aquatic physical therapy can be utilized for just about any patient diagnosis, from shin splints to knee arthritis, shoulder pain and low back pain. While it can be helpful for just about anything, it should be applied judiciously to the cases of patients who can benefit from aquatic therapy more than the benefit that a traditional “land-based” physical therapy appointment can offer, especially since it is difficult for patients to continue aquatic physical therapy exercises on their own due to frequent lack of pool access.
At MotionWorks Physical Therapy, we tend to utilize our aquatic physical therapy program for patients who are recovering from significant surgeries to the lower extremities such as Achilles tendon repairs, calf muscle tears, and foot and ankle surgeries. These patients do very well in the pool due to the benefits related to the properties of water such as reduced swelling while offering a reduced weight-bearing environment that assists the patient in restoring a normal walking pattern, improving joint range of motion, as well as working on basic strengthening exercises weeks before they are even possible on land.
Patients with knee and hip osteoarthritis can also benefit from the ease of moving in water, with 50% less weight bearing for leg strengthening and mobility exercises to maintain health joint motion and delay the need for joint replacement. Patients suffering from very debilitating low back pain may benefit from a few visits in the pool to allow for easier participation in an exercise program, working on improved movement of the spine and pelvis with less pain.
There are some limitations to who can utilize the pool in a physical therapy setting, such as fear of water, open wounds or incisions, skin rashes, poor balance, dizziness, and blood pressure problems. Most patients who participate in aquatic therapy find it is very helpful, enjoyable, and relaxing as they successfully meet their goals of walking normally, reducing pain, decreasing swelling, and improving mobility and strength.
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