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The Moving Benefits of Aquatic Physical Therapy

By Luke Gentry, PT, DPT, OCS

Is it hard to walk, stand or just move? Taking the weight off your joints and legs and practicing controlled movements through aquatic physical therapy is a great way to improve mobility without the limits of gravity and pain.

The buoyancy of water has significant benefits that go beyond relieving pressure on your body. By learning and applying a couple of simple concepts, aquatic physical therapy enables you to move easier and with less pain.

Reducing Gravity: Water buoyancy through upward force keeps you afloat, reducing pressure on the body and allowing for easier joint motion. This buoyancy effect depends on how much of the body is immersed in water. If the water is up to your neck, you reduce 90% of your body weight; if the water level is at hip level, you reduce 40% of your weight. This can be very helpful with arthritic joints or for post-surgical rehabilitation.1,2

Decreasing Pain: Water can provide a safe method to move in a more controlled pain-free environment. For example, squatting on land can be painful due to the amount of pressure on the joints and muscles, but water will provide pressure relief on the joints while still engaging the muscles and performing the same squatting motion. Warm water also helps to relax the muscles and reduce muscular spasms.

Increasing Movement: The buoyancy of water also provides positive resistance to the body through assisted (toward the surface of the water) or resisted movement (movement that opposes the buoyancy), as opposed to land-based exercise which is affected by gravity. Aquatic therapy enables you to strengthen the muscles of the body through easier movement with less risk for injury.

Improving Balance: The water acts as a natural buffer for anyone who may be at risk for falling. Research indicates that the support you receive when performing balance exercises in the water can significantly improve balance and walking, and reduce the risk for falling while walking or moving on land.3

Reducing Swelling: Water provides hydrostatic pressure which can significantly reduce swelling, as well as sensitivity to touch and pain. The depth and positioning of the body in the pool can add or reduce pressure on the muscles and joints as conditioning improves.

One-on-One Treatment Sessions: The aquatic therapy advantage can be maximized by a trained physical therapist to educate and assist you in the pool. Individualized evaluations are performed to determine movement and pain restrictions to take full advantage of the water-based treatment.

Research indicates that eight weeks of aquatic physical therapy (5X/week for 45-60 minute sessions) has significant benefit on conditioning and the quality of life.4 This improvement goes beyond the benefits to the neuromuscular and cardiopulmonary system and can demonstrate benefits to the patient’s mental health.5

Water provides an environment that everyone can enjoy. Aquatic physical therapy is an effective and fun way to improve your quality of life both in water and on land.

Dr. Luke Gentry is a Clinic Director for Avid Physical Therapy. He is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and a Board-Certified Orthopedic Specialist. Dr. Gentry can be reached at
(760) 347.6195 or luke@avidphysicaltherapy.com. To find out more about Avid’s Aquatic Physical Therapy Program visit avidphysicaltherapy.com.

References available upon request.

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