Aquatic Therapy and Water Exercise

Published - May 29, 2019

Aquatic Therapy is Physical Therapy (PT) that takes place in the water. This therapy can be a great alternative to traditional, land-based therapy. 

Aquatic Therapy may be beneficial for any patient who needs to reduce the amount of weight placed through the body, such as patients recovering from knee or hip surgery, patients with low-back pain or arthritis, athletes recovering from a stress fracture, or any individual who has not had success with traditional PT. During an aquatic therapy session, a physical therapist is in the water with the patient, assisting with the rehabilitation program.

Benefits of Aquatic Therapy

The unique physical properties of water (including buoyancy and viscosity) provide great benefits for therapeutic exercise in the pool. The buoyancy of the water, or the tendency to float, reduces the force of gravity on the body, helping individuals move more freely with less pain. Buoyancy and viscosity attribute to the natural resistance of the water. Resistance exercises can be performed to improve strength, and extra resistance can be added in the water through the use of paddles, fins, balls or noodles. Water also allows more free-flowing movement, increasing range of motion and improved balance and coordination. Aquatic Therapy aids in the protection of joints during physical exercise, often times while reducing stress.

Recommended exercises in the water

Below are a few of my favorite exercises to do in the water. These exercises are beneficial to anyone who would like to increase strength and improve flexibility, while adding to their cardiovascular stamina.

  • Deep Water Walking: With the water above your clavicle (collar bone), walk a series of laps in the water. Try walking forward, backward and side-to-side. Increase the number of laps as you get stronger.
  • Tricep Curls: Keeping your elbows bent and tucked into your trunk, hold a noodle or water weights with your palms facing down and push down to straighten your arms, bringing them to your thighs. Keep the repetitions slow and use full range of motion. Start with two sets of 10—15 repetitions.
  • Four-way Hip Kicks: To work your hip abductors, adductors, flexors, and extensors, start by holding on to the side of the pool with one hand and straight legs, shoulder-width apart, and perform 10 leg raises to the front, 10 to the back, 10 to the side and then 10 across your body. Switch sides. Keep the raises slow and steady. You should feel your gluteals working on the stationary leg.
  • Heel Raises: To strengthen your ankle and calf muscles, start with your feet shoulder-width apart and your hands resting on the side of the pool. Slowly raise your heels coming onto the balls of your feet and toes. Lower down gently. Start with two sets of 10—15 repetitions per set.
  • Squats: To strengthen your gluteals and lower extremities, start with your feet shoulder-width apart and your hands resting on the side of the pool. Keep your weight on your heels and bend from the knees as if you’re sitting down on a chair in the water. Raise yourself to starting position slowly. Start with two sets of 10—15 repetitions per set.

Whether you’re a swimmer or land-lover, exercising in the water can improve flexibility, increase strength and improve cardiovascular fitness, while reducing stress on your joints. Should you require PT, aquatic therapy may be a great option on your road to recovery. If you have any questions about aquatic therapy, contact IRG Physical & Hand Therapy – Anacortes at 360.682.0361.

Written by: Amber Walker, MSc PT, Cert. SMT, Cert. DN, DIP. Osteopractic