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The Healing Power of Water: How Aquatic Therapy Can Benefit Seniors

Updated: Mar 20, 2023

Have you ever stopped to consider the healing power of water? For centuries, humans have been drawn to the restorative properties of oceans, lakes, and hot springs. But did you know that water can also be a powerful tool for improving physical and mental health? Aquatic therapy, also known as hydrotherapy or water therapy, is a safe and effective way to improve a range of health conditions. But what are the benefits of aquatic therapy, and how does it work? To learn more, we spoke with Cristian Hernandez, physical therapist assistant and lead therapist at Oak Hills Care Center, on the topic and his experience working with residents using this form of therapy. Let’s dive in!

What is aquatic therapy?

Aquatic therapy is a form of physical therapy that takes place in a pool or other water-based environment. “Aquatic therapy is a general approach towards land-based physical therapy that helps a patient’s endurance, strength, and gait, also known as walking,” Cristian explained. “Some things that we do in the pool consist of core-based activation techniques, walking (or gaits as we know in physical therapy) and also just global strengthening just by using water weights that look like dumbbells, also pool noodles just like as kids, and also flippers like you would use when you’re going swimming.” Aquatic therapy also provides a lifting effect, a concept known as buoyancy, which allows individuals to become weightless underwater.

Cristian explained this buoyancy effect as an upward lift on the body. "It will help reduce pain, maybe even inflammation to the area when you are walking on land, and it just helps provide a way for patients to perform exercise without their limitations, whether that’s range of motion, or strength, or even pain,” he stated. The buoyancy of the water reduces gravitational force on our bodies and it reduces the further we go in. This gravitational force is reduced 30% at knee-level, 50% at waist-level, and 90% at neck-level reducing pressure on joints and relaxing the muscles.

What conditions can aquatic therapy help with?

The buoyancy and the warmth of the water, as well as exercise, can help with many conditions as it reduces the pressure from the joints, allows the muscles to relax, relieves pain, and increases the range of joint movement. This can be especially helpful for individuals who are recovering from surgery or joint injuries. The water also provides resistance or turbulence which can challenge individuals to improve balancing skills and strengthen muscles.

Here are some more conditions that aquatic therapy can help with:

  • Arthritis

  • Back pain

  • Balance disorders

  • Bursitis

  • Chronic pain

  • Diabetes

  • Fibromyalgia

  • Joint pain

  • Multiple sclerosis

  • Orthopedic injuries

  • Parkinson’s disease

  • Post-operative conditions

  • Sports injuries

  • Sprains and strains

  • Stroke

  • Tendinitis

“Some tips that I give to people that are new to aquatic therapy or may be unsure of trying it out is that the water is warm, it’s a lot of fun, and it’s your one time to be a kid again and having a pool noodle battle with your therapist.” - Cristian Hernandez, PTA and Lead Therapist

What are other benefits of aquatic therapy?

Here are some more benefits of aquatic therapy:

  • Lowers Fall Risk

  • Helps with Balance and Coordination

  • Reduces Stress on Joints and Bones

  • Builds Muscle Strength and Endurance

  • Increases Aerobic Capacity

  • Improves Joint Flexibility

  • Reduces Swelling

Aquatic therapy has mental health benefits as well. “Every time we go, patients say just how great it feels, how it reduces pain, how they can perform exercises with just no problems and they always come out so much happier - just a boost in their mental health as they get out and they go back to the facility,” said Cristian. “So, honestly, it’s just a good enjoyment for them and even for me – ‘cause I mean, who doesn’t love being in the pool?” In addition to a mood boost, it was found that aquatic therapy reduces depression and anxiety, improves functional autonomy, and decreases oxidative stress in elderly individuals with depression.

How can I start?

If you are interested in starting aquatic therapy, there are a few options to consider when you begin your search. Depending on your location, you may have a YMCA facility or physical therapy center that offers aquatic therapy near you. Additionally, if your health insurance includes physical therapy coverage, you may be able to benefit from having your aquatic therapy sessions covered.

By taking advantage of the therapeutic properties of water, aquatic therapy offers an enjoyable approach to improve physical health and well-being. Through the use of buoyancy and resistance of the water, a unique setting is created for exercise and relief which can assist with the recovery and improvement of many conditions. With its ability to improve balance, muscle strength, endurance, and more, aquatic therapy offers many benefits that can help individuals maintain and improve their overall health and well-being.


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