Did you know individuals who have a limited capacity to perform exercises on dry land are most suitable for hydrotherapy? Our physiotherapist Vernon explores how hydrotherapy can benefit you.
What is hydrotherapy?
At Malvern East Physiotherapy (MEP), hydrotherapy is performed at the Harold Holt Swim Centre.
Hydrotherapy (also known as aquatic therapy, water therapy or pool therapy) is a form of exercise performed in the water, instead of on land. This form of exercise treatment is done in a specific hydrotherapy pool, which is vastly different to your typical 25 metre pool. The hydrotherapy pool is usually heated between 33°-36°.
It is important to note that aqua aerobics is different to hydrotherapy whereby it is typically performed in the normal 25 metre pool and is for those patients who are not limited by joint pain and want a form of cardiovascular fitness.
At MEP, our physiotherapists prescribe hydrotherapy for patients who typically suffer from the following conditions:
- Joint arthritis/osteoarthritis.
- Post-joint replacement rehabilitation.
- Various post-surgical rehabilitations (e.g. surgical repair of achilles)
Overall, patients who have a limited capacity to perform exercises on dry land are most suitable for hydrotherapy. Usually, joint/muscle pain is the most common limiting factor. However, each patient must be assessed by a physiotherapist for their suitability to start hydrotherapy.
Mechanics of hydrotherapy
During a hydrotherapy session, the buoyancy of the water reduces the body weight that joints, bones and muscles have to bear. Therefore, the deeper the water is, the less body weight beared.
Neck-line depth = 10% body weight.
Chest-line depth = 30% body weight.
Waist-line water depth = 50% body weight.
The warmth of the water also provides improved blood circulation and helps with reducing swelling. As a result of the factors stated, hydrotherapy can allow for early mobilization, dynamic strengthening and overall less painful exercise.
In the water, the amount of drag or turbulence is another way of talking about resistance. Resistance is created when you add flippers, paddles or noodles. The speed you move an object and the depth of the water you exercise in, contributes to the amount of “resistance” created. The faster the speed, the more resistance.
Buoyancy is the amount of force that is created to keep objects afloat. The deeper the water, the more buoyancy created. This is why less pain is caused by exercise when in the water. If pain is created during water exercise, stopping movement immediately stops pain as the buoyancy supports the limb.
What do we do
Typically patients who complete hydrotherapy are limited by joint/muscle pain whilst performing exercises on land. Thus, we take land-based exercises and do them in the water.
These include: strength exercises (squats, step ups calf raises), balance exercises (single leg, split stance), flexibility exercises (calf stretch, quadriceps stretch) and general mobility exercises (walking forwards, sideways walking, joint movements).
Hydrotherapy vs Land-based exercise
The most critical difference between hydrotherapy and land-based exercise is strength/power gains and the ability to manipulate pain levels. As the depth of the water is related to the amount of load going through joints/muscles, our physiotherapists can appropriately alter how patients exercise depending on pain levels, which cannot be done on land.
If strength is a major issue that needs to be treated, it is important to note that whilst on land, 100% of our bodyweight goes through our joints and muscles which is significantly more bodyweight than being in the water.
With less bodyweight going through your joints and muscles, there is a decreased ability for your muscles to adapt and get stronger. There will be some strength improvements made in water, but not to the same degree as being on land.
Hydrotherapy at Malvern East Physiotherapy
The consultation will involve assessing and discussing your suitability for hydrotherapy. Then, if deemed suitable for water exercise, you will discuss with your physiotherapist a treatment plan so that you achieve the best outcomes with physiotherapy.