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  • Aquatic Therapy: Exploring the Benefits of Water-Based Physiotherapy

    Author: Felicity Frankish

As a new mum cradling a crying infant, a toddler partway through a meltdown, a teen with too much angst, or an adult feeling stressed, we are always told: just add water. This magical substance indeed has so many amazing properties, making it no surprise that it is being harnessed for rehabilitation and physical well-being. The buoyancy, resistance and thermal properties of water create a unique environment that can be leveraged for various therapeutic exercises. This therapy aids in reducing pain, improving mobility and enhancing recovery post-surgery​​. We take a look at the different areas of aquatic therapy, understanding its principles, applications and the impact it has.

Aquatic therapy, also known as hydrotherapy, is a specialised form of physiotherapy practised in water, generally in temperature-controlled pools. This therapeutic approach blends the properties of water with rehabilitative exercise to offer a unique and effective treatment. From elderly individuals with arthritis to athletes requiring fast recovery from strenuous activities, the same principles apply…just add water. Its unique properties create an environment that is both gentle and effective for a range of physical conditions.

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One of the most significant benefits is pain reduction. The buoyancy of water reduces the weight-bearing load on the joints, relieving joint pain and discomfort. This is particularly beneficial for those recovering from surgeries such as hip or knee replacements, as it allows for movement with minimal strain on the surgical sites​​​​.

Aquatic therapy also offers improved mobility and increased range of motion. For instance, post-operative patients can benefit from the low-impact environment that water provides, which helps in building strength and flexibility recovery​​. The water also stimulates circulation, boosting blood flow to injured areas, and improving oxygen and nutrients essential for healing. This can lead to faster recovery times and reduced inflammation and swelling​​​​.

Muscle strength and endurance can also be improved through aquatic therapy. The resistance provided by water can help with muscle conditioning, allowing patients to regain muscle strength by performing exercises in water without the risk of further injury​​. This also extends to balance and coordination, as this resistance encourages the engagement of core muscles for stability.

Another important aspect is the reduction of stress on joints and bones. The buoyancy in water significantly lowers the impact on these areas, making it an ideal therapy for patients with weight-bearing restrictions post-surgery or for those with conditions like arthritis​​. Finally, aquatic therapy is also good for the heart. Submerging in water compresses the body, causing the heart and lungs to work harder, strengthening the cardiovascular system.

In addition to these physical benefits, aquatic therapy also contributes to mental health and well-being thanks to the soothing and calming nature of water. The experience of being in water naturally promotes relaxation and can help lower stress levels. This is particularly beneficial for those who experience chronic stress or anxiety​​​​. Immersing yourself in water allows you to disconnect from everything going on around you and focus on what’s going on inside. It also leads to the release of endorphins, the body's natural mood lifters. This can result in an overall improvement in mood and a sense of well-being​​.

In Australia, aquatic therapy’s integration into clinical settings has been driven by evidence-based research and a growing recognition of its therapeutic value. In the clinical context, aquatic therapy is often part of a broader rehabilitation program. A typical session involves exercises designed to improve range of motion, increase muscle strength, and enhance overall mobility. These sessions are conducted in specially designed pools, with temperatures often regulated to provide optimal therapeutic benefits​​​​.

What’s worth noting is aquatic therapy’s adaptability to different treatment plans. For instance, a study conducted in Australia on patients undergoing hip or knee replacement highlighted the benefits of incorporating aquatic therapy into postoperative rehabilitation. The study found that patients participating in aquatic therapy showed improved muscle strength and faster recovery.

Clinical practice in aquatic therapy often involves a multidisciplinary approach. Physical therapists, working alongside other healthcare professionals, tailor programs to meet the specific needs of each patient. This personalised approach ensures that patients receive the most appropriate and effective treatment for their condition.

Another essential element in clinical practice is looking at the effectiveness of therapy. Physical therapists often use various measures, such as strength testing and patient-reported outcomes, to assess the therapy's impact. These assessments help in fine-tuning treatment plans and ensuring that patients are making progress towards their rehabilitation goals​​​​.

Aquatic therapy, with its unique and multifaceted approach, has cemented its place as a valuable part of physiotherapy in Australia. Its ability to blend the soothing properties of water with effective rehabilitation techniques presents a great alternative to traditional therapy methods. This form of therapy caters to a wide range of physical conditions and also contributes to mental health and well-being. It not only represents a significant advancement in physical rehabilitation but also a step forward when it comes to integrated, patient-focused healthcare solutions.


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Felicity Frankish

Flick Frankish is an experienced Editor and Marketing Manager with a demonstrated history of working in the publishing industry. After studying journalism and digital media, she naturally fell into the online world - and hasn't left since!
She is skilled in running successful social media campaigns and generating leads and sales. Combines skills of editing, SEO copywriting, email campaigns and social media marketing for success.

Before moving into the freelance world, Felicity worked as Senior Subeditor at CHILD Magazines, International Marketing Manager at QualityTrade and Marketing Manager for Children’s Tumor Foundation.