Hydrotherapy, or aquatic therapy, is a form of physical rehabilitation that uses the properties of water to help promote healing of several different conditions. Because of its natural properties, water can provide relief from the pain associated with orthopaedic disorders, such as arthritis, chronic back pain, bone fractures and other injuries, neuromuscular diseases like muscular dystrophy and muscular conditions like fibromyalgia.
Being in the water also makes it easier for patients, especially those who are overweight, to exercise as part of rehabilitation. Patients typically must undergo water therapy two to three times a week for maximal results. Hydrotherapy is typically undergone in a setting with filtered water at or above 92 degrees Fahrenheit.
Hydrotherapy offers patients many advantages over traditional physical therapy. The natural properties of water provide several distinct benefits to patients, including:
- Buoyancy for support and to limit joint stress.
- Natural resistance to help muscle strengthening without weights
- Warmth to help relax muscles and increase blood flow
Beyond targeting injured or diseased areas of the body, hydrotherapy can assist in improving flexibility, balance, comfort, endurance and range of motion. Water therapy is also a known relaxer for most individuals, providing a respite from stress and anxiety and thereby facilitating healing.
Hydrotherapy, in spite of its many benefits for the majority of patients, is not appropriate in all cases. For sanitary reasons, hydrotherapy should not be undergone by patients who have bladder or bowel incontinence. Patients have to be carefully evaluated before engaging in hydrotherapy if they:
- Have cardiac disease
- Have an infection or fever
- Are diabetic
- Have Raynaud’s disease
- Are pregnant
- Have unusually high or low blood pressure
While extremely effective for most patients, for individuals with these conditions, and for those who are elderly, very young, or extremely debilitated, hydrotherapy may not only be ineffective, but dangerous.