Hydrotherapy, as its name suggests, is a therapy that takes place in an environment where patients are immersed in warm water. This allows them to exercise painlessly, aiding recovery from a wide variety of conditions. Many large hospitals use this form of underwater therapy to assist patients to overcome conditions where movement is limited because of paralysis or pain or where muscles have been weakened thorough injury or illness.
All treatment is supervised by a hydrotherapist, a qualified professional, and takes place in what appears as a normal swimming pool but with very important modifications. These pools have hoists for lifting people in and out of the pool, as well as walking bars and specially designed handles for those who have difficulty or who find it painful to move around without that added assistance. Also, it is essential for the water to be at body temperature for effective treatment.
There are three primary objectives to conducting physical therapy in warm water and these are:
- It abolishes gravity, allowing the body to float and amplifying the power in the muscles. This allows greater movement of a specific limb or joint.
- The warm water relaxes muscles and eases pain.
- Resistance to movement in water is useful for gentle exercise.
How Treatment Is Given
The patient’s condition basically decides the amount of treatment or therapy needed and most patients only do up to half an hour of therapy in the hot water at a time. Because of this, the treatments need to be more often, usually daily, for some weeks. In some cases the treatment is over a much longer period of time, particularly in the case of chronic illness such as neurological illnesses, where the patient may have hydrotherapy twice each day for several weeks or months.
There is no special clothing needed to enter a hydrotherapy pool with patients normally wearing their usual swimwear. The pool is designed to make access easy for the patient who goes through a planned routine of exercises under the strict supervision of the hydrotherapist. These exercises are complex and use floats and other equipment to increase resistance so that the muscles being exercised get the greatest benefit.
Often, people with arthritis and other inflammatory joint conditions or those with weakness in the legs access the hydrotherapy pool for walking exercises. The benefit is that, because of the warm water, the range of movement is greater and therefore more effective to the weakened areas.
The treatment is usually followed by a cold shower to cool off or, in some hydrotherapy centers, they use hot and cold showers for improved circulation.
How Hydrotherapy Helps
Hydrotherapy has been used for decades as an integral part of treatment where there is severe arthritis or where the patient has undergone knee surgery or hip surgery.
This is because the muscles around a joint often become wasted after surgery. Because movement against gravity is so painful, being immersed in warm water makes the movement much easier as the water lifts the limbs, improving joint movement and getting the joints working effectively again.
Hydrotherapy is extremely beneficial in the restoration of movement in a condition called ankylosing spondylitis. This condition is a form of arthritis in the spine where the spinal vertebrae become progressively inflamed and the spine eventually becomes fused, making movement very limited. Other forms of arthritis also respond well to this type of physical therapy, particularly in the hip joint.
It is also very useful in some neurological conditions. It cannot help the illness but it can increase mobility as well as the power in the muscles by allowing movement in muscles normally unable to move. In the case of conditions such as stroke, hydrotherapy helps to reeducate muscles to take over the function of damaged muscles.
Unfortunately, not all patients are able to benefit from hydrotherapy. These include patients who are incontinent for hygiene reasons. Some centers have the water specially treated to deal with incontinence, particularly centers that have a lot of paraplegic patients.
Also people who have high blood pressure are unsuitable as hydrotherapy raises the blood pressure. Patients with skin conditions or allergies to chlorine cannot use the pool.
Patients who are prone to fainting or who take seizures may be excluded but the pool is carefully supervised so they may not always be banned from this therapy.
To look at it simply, hydrotherapy is just underwater exercises but it is actually a scientific development of physical therapy. Its value has been greatly proven in the treatment of both neurological and orthopedic conditions.