Hydrotherapy refers to the use of exercises in water as part of treatment for conditions such as pre or post operative rehabilitation, arthritis and joint replacements, or for general flexibility and mobility.
According to Golby et al (1993 British Journal of Rheumatology Vol 32,No 9) hydrotherapy was first used by Hippocrates (c450-375BC).
Hydrotherapy can improve pre-operative fitness and conditioning in a non weight bearing environment prior to hip or knee surgery. It can also be used to increase cardiovascular fitness, restore function post-operatively and be a "fun" form of exercise.
The benefit of water is that it has certain properties not related to land based exercise. It has a hydrodynamic property which may promote relaxation and decrease pain perception in musculo-skeletal disorders.
Water is also a denser and more viscous medium than air and can therefore increase the resistance to movement
Water has a buoyancy effect, which is the upward push exerted on a body that is partly submerged in water. This effect gives a feeling of being lighter and allows one to exercise with reduced weight bearing on the body. Muscle strength can therefore be increased with less stress on the joints. It also allows for a wider range of motion and permits fuller use of the muscles with less discomfort. This is especially important in exercising painful arthritic joints
In an aquatic environment there is a decrease in joint overload and a decreased risk of falling, providing a safer exercise environment. Floating allows individuals to perform exercises and movements that cannot be done on land.
Exercise can have an affect on mood and being able to exercise in water may help reduce anxiety, depression, and physiological problems, as it promotes social interaction whilst in the water. Hydrotherapy can be a very useful form of exercise for those people who have difficulty performing land based exercises. Hydrotherapy is a great way to reduce pain and rehabilitate injuries.
About the author:
Dr Jan Naughton received her PhD at Sydney University where she was lecturing in Sports Medicine and undergraduate physiotherapy. She specialises in shoulder injuries and has a sports physiotherapy practice in Wahroonga on Sydney's upper north shore working with two other specialist colleagues.