What is Hydrotherapy?
Hydrotherapy is a tailored exercise program completed in a heated pool. While exercising in a pool is always good, hydrotherapy is a bit more specific. The pool is heated to around 34-35ºC, which makes it perfect for sufferers of arthritis, back pain or others with restricted movement. The heat of the pool makes it easier for your muscles and joints to get working, while the water reduces gravity on your body. That’s one of the main reasons hydrotherapy is so effective, because it allows people to increase their strength and mobility without the strain and impact of other exercise types.
There’s a common misconception that hydrotherapy is only for the elderly, but that’s not true at all. Physiotherapists prescribe aquatic physiotherapy for people of all ages, especially those struggling with mobility or recovering from surgery. It’s a safe, low-impact form of physical therapy, and can be completed one-on-one with a physiotherapist or in groups. Often, after an initial session with your physio, you’ll attend group sessions however you still focus solely on your own exercises.
What conditions is hydrotherapy used for?
Hydrotherapy is used to treat a whole range of mobility issues and other conditions. It’s popular in the treatment of osteoarthritis, psoriatic arthritis, back pain and any other issues with your joints. People recovering from surgery also benefit from hydrotherapy. Particularly joint replacement surgery and back surgery, because you need to re-train your body for certain movements while strengthening the muscles around your joints.
Essentially, hydrotherapy is beneficial for anybody who wants to improve strength and mobility in a controlled environment. For many people, exercises such as running or even walking long distances can be difficult due to the load and impact placed on your joints. Hydrotherapy removes that impact, so you can build strength and increase movement without the additional stress on your body.
How does hydrotherapy work?
A hydrotherapy pool is usually heated to 34-35ºC, making it a little different than normal water therapy exercises. The heat of the pool warms your muscles and joints, allowing for a better range of movement. Because the water is extremely buoyant, you also have less gravity affecting your body. With the water supporting your weight, there is less stress on your muscles and joints.
Essentially, hydrotherapy is great because it allows you to exercise with less pain. The water temperature helps to reduce pain, as well as giving you a greater range of movement. In addition, the water offers some natural resistance to your movements. Think about an action like swinging your arm around in front of you. Outside of a pool, this movement is easy, but when you try it in water, the movement is a lot slower. So, when exercising in a heated pool, you get natural water resistance which helps improve your muscle strength.
Hydrotherapy for back pain
Back pain can be a debilitating condition. Naturally, the level of pain varies from person to person, but it’s never pleasant. People suffer back pain for a number of reasons. Sedentary lifestyles such as sitting at a desk all day can create back pain. Spinal injuries are another cause. Often, people just suffer from degenerative issues in their back, and the pain can be severe. Aqua therapy for back pain can be highly beneficial.
One of the worst things about back pain is the difficulty of movement. People find it hard to exercise because it’s just too painful. That’s why so many physiotherapists recommend hydrotherapy for back pain. Being in the heated pool, your muscles relax and certain movements are easier.
Using hydrotherapy after surgery
Physiotherapists often suggest hydrotherapy following surgeries such as joint replacement or spinal surgery. After surgery, you’re often required to rest for a significant period before building up your movement again. Even for the fittest people, this time of rest can cause muscles to become weak without use. Also, if you’ve had significant periods of pain prior to surgery, it’s likely your range of motion has diminished.
As you recover, you need to increase exercise gradually, and it’s always better if you can find low-impact options. This not only helps you regain strength and movement, but increases the chance of a successful surgery. Hydrotherapy provides a safe environment to build strength, increase mobility and regain confidence after surgery.
When shouldn’t you participate in hydrotherapy?
While hydrotherapy is quite safe, there are certain circumstances in which you shouldn’t take part. You should always consult your physiotherapist and GP before taking part in hydrotherapy if you have any of the following conditions:
- Blood pressure issues
- Wounds or infections
- Difficulty breathing
- Kidney conditions
- High temperature or fever
- Chest infections
- Diabetes, asthma or epilepsy that isn’t controlled by medication
- Heart conditions
- Allergies to chlorine
It’s also important to remember that while exercising in a heated pool has definite benefits for your movement, it can also be difficult. The heat makes you feel like you’re working harder than your body really is. So, it’s important that you don’t overdo it, and take guidance from your physiotherapist.
Do you need to be a strong swimmer?
That’s what’s great about hydrotherapy. You don’t need to be a strong swimmer at all. Most of the exercises are done in chest-high water, so you can stay within your comfort zone. Your physiotherapist will work with you to determine appropriate exercise, so if you’re not a strong swimmer, there is still plenty you can do.
Most people find the water quite relaxing, so even if you’re not super-comfortable in the water, it’s worth giving it a try.
So, what happens when you finish your hydrotherapy treatment? Well, it really depends on your reasons for doing hydrotherapy in the first place. For example, if you use hydrotherapy for back pain, there’s no reason you can’t continue on your own even if you’ve stopped seeing your physio. Like any exercise though, you should visit a physio if you plan on increasing your exercise levels.
If you’ve completed a hydrotherapy program following surgery, it’s likely you won’t need to continue once you’re back to full strength. However, if you enjoy it, there’s no reason you can’t keep going.
Because hydrotherapy can be costly, many people look for alternatives once their program is finished. If you can’t continue with hydrotherapy for back pain, you can always exercise at a local pool. It won’t be heated like a hydrotherapy pool, but you’ll still get the benefits of buoyancy and water resistance. There’s never a bad time to exercise, and if it’s easier on your joints to do that in a pool, that’s terrific!