The importance of pool exercise to my recovery

There are a few reasons I really enjoy getting emails from readers. For one thing, it means a lot to me to know the things I write are helping people.

Additionally, when someone writes and tells me their specific situation, answering them really helps me to clarify my thoughts.  Sometimes when I’m working on a post, I get a kind of stage fright and freak out– it’s like why the hell am I putting all this stuff about my life online?

But when someone writes to me and specifically asks for my help, it’s like I forget about all that, and just want to help someone who’s struggling with the same things I went through.

So– thank you guys for your emails.

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I’ve had a few people write to me recently who’ve been struggling with SI joint issues for a while, and have tried land-based physical therapy with limited success.

While I wish I had a magic bullet I could recommend to them– something like “just try these three exercises and you’ll be good to go!”– it’s never that simple.

However, my number one recommendation for anyone with SI joint issues (regardless of what you’ve already tried) is to try aquatic physical therapy.

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Why is aquatic therapy so great?

Well, there are a few reasons, but the main one is that in my experience, it’s the best way to build muscular strength without negatively impacting your SI joints.

I personally don’t think I ever would have gotten better if I didn’t switch over to doing the majority of my workouts in a pool.

When I was at the point when my SI joints locked up every time I did the smallest little thing, I couldn’t get through a single workout without making things worse and having to rush back to the chiropractor.

My chiropractor is the one who ultimately got me to join a gym with a pool.  I was hesitant for a long time, but he really put his foot down and told me it was the only way for me to build up enough muscle strength to hold my joints in place, without re-aggravating the joint every time.

He turned out to be totally right, and I now count the time I did my first pool workout as the moment I really started on the path to healing.

Basically, if you have an SI joint injury, you have likely sprained the ligaments that are supposed to hold the joint in place.  

The only way around this is to build up enough muscle strength around the joint that your muscles are able to hold things in place more.  In turn, this takes some of the pressure off of your ligaments, allowing them to heal faster.

However, if you try to do exercises you aren’t ready for (which, in my case, was just about any exercise on land), you are only going to put more pressure on the ligaments, and it will backfire.

In the pool, the water takes a lot of the weight off of your joints.  This helps to protect your joints, because there is a lot less force travelling through them as you move.

As a result, you can focus on exercises that strengthen your muscles, without having to worry about putting too much pressure on your ligaments.

You may notice that sometimes I talk about “pool exercise” and sometimes I talk about “aquatic therapy.”  Why is that?

Let me just clarify this a little bit.  Generally, if it’s at all possible, I really recommend that you consult an aquatic physical therapist.   They can give you an exercise program that is tailored to you, and make sure you’re doing your exercises with proper form.

However, speaking only as a patient sharing her own experience, I personally didn’t start out directly with aquatic PT.  I already had some experience with pool exercise, so I joined a gym and began Aqua Jogging on my own.

Over time, I did end up consulting with an aquatic PT and realizing there was a lot more that I didn’t know (such as ways to use weights or floatation devices to create resistance).  Now I know that I definitely would have benefited from having her design my exercise routine sooner.

However, I recognize that due to time/location/insurance constraints, aquatic therapy might not accessible to everyone.  So it is really up to you (assuming you run your decision by your doctor).

Basically, what I ended up doing is consulting an aquatic PT a few times and making sure I was doing my exercises correctly, and then going to my gym pool on my own 5 or 6 days a week.

I still count on my pool workouts.

I just want to make it clear: I don’t think I would have gotten better without the pool, and I’m honestly not sure I would stay better without the pool.

Although I have a better base of muscle strength now, and my ligaments have healed somewhat, I know that after being sprained, they will always be a little bit compromised.

The pool is my safety net.  Even though I might work out on land or go for a (short) hike one or two days a week, the pool is the safe place I will always come back to, to ensure I keep my muscles strong without the risk of re-injuring my ligaments.

You can do it too.

I know, from personal experience, that finding a new place to go for aquatic PT, or a new gym with a pool, can be daunting.

But I promise you– once you find the right person, and the right place, it will be so, so worth it.  You’ll be glad you took the chance and put yourself out there.

Honestly, it’s worth it– even if you have to rearrange your whole schedule and travel farther than you might like.  Once you’re comfortable with the pool and your exercises, there’s nothing like the feeling of being able to relax and float around knowing that you’re doing something really good for yourself, and that the water will protect your joints.

I have so much more to say about additional benefits of the pool, as well as specific pool exercises and techniques that were helpful to me.  Stay tuned!

Exercise Recommendations:

People often ask me for more information on the exercises I do.  I definitely need to come up with some better kinds of visual aids.  I’ve been playing around with trying to make some illustrations for you guys… or even thinking of trying to create my own photos or videos.  (But ugh… have you ever thought about putting a video of yourself in a bathing suit on Youtube? Haha… this is still something I’m thinking about).

For now:

Here is a somewhat rudimentary post I wrote on pool exercises for the SI joint

And a really informative article from The Guardian on Aqua Jogging

Also, Dr. Jo has put some really great videos of exercises she recommends up on Youtube. Here are a few that are pretty similar to the exercises I do:

 

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