Aquatic Therapy for Beginners: top 3 questions answered

Aquatic therapy (or pool therapy) is an approach to active rehabilitation that takes place in the water under the supervision of a kinesiologist or other physical rehabilitation specialist. This type of therapy has many benefits for people who are experiencing chronic pain, have joint issues such as arthritis, or are recovering from injury or surgery. 

Starting aquatic therapy might seem like a real challenge. It might seem especially hard if you don’t know how to swim or haven’t been in a pool for a long time. In this blog post I will address some common concerns that may arise before starting active rehabilitation in the water. 

Do I need to know how to swim to do aquatic therapy?

No you don’t. 

Aquatic therapy exercises are very similar to those you would do with a therapist on dry land. With some modifications, you will be performing movements like walking, step-ups, single leg balancing, or upper body push/pull (think rows and chest press).

aquatic therapy need to swim

You will be using equipment found at the pool (noodles and kickboards) and pool features like stairs. These exercises are done standing, sitting, or moving from one place to another in the aquatic environment. With the exception of specific exercises that require floatation, exercises are done in depths where you are able to reach the bottom of the pool with your feet.

Being comfortable with walking, standing, and sitting in water depths from waist to shoulder levels will be helpful because they are the most common for aquatic therapy. Those depths allow you to maximize the buoyancy effect of the water while exercising. More buoyancy reduces the amount of force applied to your joints and body. At neck deep in water we experience 90% less gravity.

You’ll be really safe during your aquatic therapy session. At Symmetrix, aquatic therapy sessions are conducted in public pools in community centers. This means that in addition to having your kinesiologist in the pool to support and monitor you, all patrons are also supervised by certified lifeguards.

Will my hair get wet?

Maybe.

As I mentioned above, to maximize the therapeutic benefits of aquatic therapy like weightlessness and hydrostatic pressure you should be partially submerged. Most of the exercises you’ll be guided through in aquatic therapy are done either standing, sitting, or walking in water levels up to the shoulder.

My clients with longer hair tie it up in a bun to keep it dry. Depending on your program you may perform exercises where you are floating on your back or front that require you to have your head partially submerged. If you’re concerned about keeping your hair dry while floating horizontally you can wear a silicone/rubber swim cap that is sold at most swimming pools or sports stores. 

Because aquatic therapy sessions are often conducted in public pools, there is also a risk of your hair/head getting splashed inadvertently. As someone leading many aquatic therapy sessions, splashing is the cause for most of my wet hair during sessions. This happens from a splash from someone playing nearby or some spray from someone swimming laps in an adjacent lane. 

How do I gain confidence in the water

Not everyone is used to moving in the water so it may take a couple sessions to get comfortable, feel coordinated, and to learn proper body alignment while exercising. Gravity is the main force in land based exercise.

Aquatic therapy helps with movement on weight bearing muscles and joints by reducing the force of gravity. But being in the water requires us to stabilize our bodies against additional forces like buoyancy and water turbulence.

Learning how to properly ‘right’ yourself is the first step to moving confidently in the water. This is a floatation technique that allows you to get back to standing if you lose balance or are floating in the water on your back or front. 

Woman rights herself in aquatic therapy

How to stay above water

To right yourself in the pool, bring your legs together and up to your chest. This immediately brings the head and chest upwards and out of the water. Then straighten out your legs under you to touch the pool floor and stand up. 

This technique helps you gain confident and get all the benefits of aquatic therapy.

How does my kinesiologist help me in the water?

Just as in the gym, you will be working with your kinesiologist 1-on-1 in the water. They are a professional who will be supporting and guiding you as you perform your exercises. They will help by modifying your exercises as you progress. 

Your kinesiologist is a trained professional who will progress you by changing the intensity of your workouts, the volume of the sets and repetitions, and the water levels in which you work. These progressions are a type of fitness program designed to work towards moving with ease when you are out of the pool.

Conclusion:

Moving and working out in the water doesn’t require you to swim, get your hair wet, or be submerged in water deeper than your shoulders and neck. With the support and guidance of your kinesiologist you will be able to maximize the beneficial properties of water to help you recover from injury and get stronger.

And as a bonus, a quick steep in the hot tub will have you relaxed and ready for the rest of the day!

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