What is Aquatic Therapy?

Aquatic therapy is an approach to active rehabilitation that takes place in the water under the supervision of a kinesiologist or other physical rehabilitation specialist. During a therapy session you perform movements against the resistance of the water that help strengthen your muscles, improve your range of motion and function and reduce pain. 

Based on your needs and abilities, movement and exercise can be done in a variety of different water depths, both horizontally and vertically. Aquatic therapy is perfect for people who find it difficult to exercise on dry land. 

Some of the benefits of doing regular aquatic therapy are:

  • Increased muscle strength
  • An increased ability to cope with stress
  • Emotional and muscular relaxation
  • Improved cardio fitness
  • Increased joint range of motion
  • Improved balance and coordination
  • Improved core strength
  • A weightless feeling that helps relieve tense muscles

Read about the difference between aquatic therapy and aquafit here.

Why is water such a good medium for movement and exercise?

The resistive forces that you work against in the water changes based on your strength, motivation (how intense you choose your workout to be), and what your needs are as an exerciser. 

Exercise in water can be tailored too many different abilities. For example, a conditioned athlete can choose to increase the speed and force in which they move their bodies and experience an intensive and fatiguing workout. For athletes exercise in the water can be sport-specific and can complement other types of fitness training.

In contrast, a person with a recent injury can work within their pain-free ranges in a very gentle and slow manner that helps them recover and strengthen their muscles without re-injury. For people with joint conditions such as arthritis, purely walking in the aquatic environment can be beneficial due to the reduced stress on the joints.

The loads that one experiences is easily modified just by changing the depth of water in which you are moving. Pregnant or postpartum exercisers will also enjoy being active in a gravity-reduced environment. 

Because you can make the workout as challenging as you choose, working out in the pool is perfect for people that are just starting to exercise and get active. The water environment helps with keeping you cool while you move so you experience less overheating. 

Doing active rehab in the water can also reduce stress and apprehension about balance. When you’re partially or fully submerged in the water can mean the difference between walking or balancing with or without a walker or cane. 

And if you fall? No problem! In the pool you can be assured that you won’t hurt yourself if you lose balance. 

As an added bonus you can enjoy some time in the hot tub while you do aquatic therapy. Just as the main pool helps with keeping you cool, the warm temperature aids with muscle relaxation to make stretching more comfortable. 

How is aquatic therapy different from dry land Active rehab?

Exercising in the water feels different than exercising “on land”. When we are out of the water we are working against gravity. Just by walking we are lifting our own body weight. In the gym we modify this by adding progressively heavier weights with the aid of dumbbells and cable machines. 

In the water, there are many other forces on the body. Buoyancy, hydrostatic pressure, water temperature, turbulence, resistance and depth of immersion allow for more options to exercise. The water provides resistance in many different planes and directions that helps gently train our balance and proprioception (where we feel our body is in space) as well as our muscles.

Who are aquatic therapists? What training do they have?

"Aquatic therapist" is not a unique health designation, they’re specialists from a range of rehabilitation fields. They can be rehabilitation assistants, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, personal trainers, and kinesiologists. Within this list is a very broad spectrum of education levels. In some cases aquatic therapy session programming will be done by a physiotherapist and conducted with the patient by a rehabilitation assistant.

What kind of exercises do you do in aquatic therapy?

The exercises that you will do with your aquatic therapist will be tailored to your needs determined by an assessment. Aquatic therapy is centered around active rehabilitation so exercises are designed to target the area you need help with. 

For example, to strengthen the lower limb muscles for a knee injury, you would be doing functional movements such as squats, step-ups, and walking while you are partially submerged in the water. Even just moving your arms or legs in the water at various speeds provides resistance to strengthen muscles. 

Do you use equipment in aquatic therapy?

Yes. 

With some basic aquatic therapy equipment such as noodles and kickboards you can do modified versions of most exercises you would do in a gym. These useful tools are found at most pool facilities and are accessible to patrons to use while they are in the pool.

Adding equipment to workouts can be useful for 3 main reasons:

-to change the resistance or buoyancy to make exercises harder

-to add variety to the exercise program and make the session fun

-to aid with balance

Read more about how to use aquatic therapy equipment here.

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

No you don’t. 

Most exercises are done standing in shoulder depth water or shallower. For exercises where you don’t touch the pool floor, floating belts or noodles are used. 

When I work with clients in the pool I keep my glasses on as my face rarely gets submerged. 

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. Before beginning to exercise in the pool, I always start with learning how to right yourself if you lose balance. Being able to right yourself if you lose balance gives you more confidence in water. 

Who can benefit from aquatic therapy?

The unique properties of water such as added buoyancy makes the pool a great place to exercise. This is especially true if you have difficulty with weight bearing, since standing in waist or chest deep water will drastically reduce the loading on your joints. 

The water is also a great place if you struggle with balance or walking. Aquatic therapy not only allows you to move with more ease, you’ll also have one-on-one guidance and support for getting stronger at your own pace.

Some examples of people who would benefit from aquatic therapy are:

  • Elderly/seniors
  • People with joint issues, arthritis
  • People with injuries from a car accident
  • People experiencing chronic pain
  • People doing rehab for joint replacements
  • People who are overweight or obese
  • People with neuro-motor disabilities
  • Learn more about who would benefit from aquatic therapy in this blog post.

Where can you do aquatic therapy?

At Symmetrix, our sessions are conducted in local community center pools around Vancouver and Burnaby BC. Currently The main pools that our kinesiologists work at are Killarney Pool, Eileen Daily Pool, Hillcrest Pool, and The Vancouver Aquatic Center. 

These pools are wheelchair accessible and have showers, lockers, changing facilities and hot tub/saunas. These facilities are conveniently located throughout the city and are open year-round (with exceptions of maintenance of course.)

At Symmetrix our initial assessments and re-assessments are conducted inside either our Vancouver or Burnaby studios.

If you’re not located in the region you can start by asking your physiotherapist or kinesiologist for a referral for aquatic therapy.

Conclusion

There are so many ways that aquatic therapy can benefit you if you are looking to get stronger or recover from an injury. From improving your range of motion or being able to squat more comfortably, the pool is the way to go. 

For me, being in the water simply feels good. Moving becomes easier and more fluid, and to top it off, it’s lots of fun! If you’re still unsure if aquatic therapy is right for you, talk to one of our experienced aquatic therapists at Symmetrix today.

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Excellent rehabilitation facility. Chris has experience with rehabilitation that I have not seen with other practitioners.

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I have an injury from right leg knee cap to my back on my right side that I have been struggling with since 2017. I am now able to do some running and have definitely gotten a lot stronger and more resilient. Symmetrix has been amazing.

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I have loved training with Dash and the team at Symmetrix. My knee has not felt this strong with squatting and hiking in a long time.

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