I’ve had a few more really thought-provoking emails from readers recently. Thank you guys for sending them– I think I get as much out of answering your questions as you do, because they really make me think!.
Lately, I’ve been wondering how people feel when I urge them to try aquatic therapy. This is generally my #1 recommendation when people contact me saying traditional land-based physical therapy hasn’t worked.
However, sometimes I don’t hear back once I send my response. I’m never really sure if people are just trying to be respectful of my time and not write back unless they have a question, or if they just weren’t completely on board with what I said. (If it’s the first I’m totally okay with it, because sometimes people ask me questions I’m not qualified to answer, and I don’t want to overstep my limits as a blogger!).
But in case some people are a little bit daunted or discouraged by my suggestion of aquatic therapy, I thought I would write this post to clear up any misconceptions you might have.
Myth #1: You have to already be in great shape
No. In fact, the opposite is true– aquatic therapy is great for people who are not able to perform land-based exercise. In the water, you can cut out the effects of gravity, making movement much, much easier on your joints.
A good aquatic therapist will tailor your exercise level to you. If this means starting out in baby steps (metaphorically or literally!) that is perfectly okay! That’s why you’re in physical therapy. The right physical therapist will meet you where you are.
In fact, many facilities will offer a warm-water therapy pool, that’s strictly for rehabilitation purposes. It is not a place for lap swimmers– it is a place for therapy.
Myth #2: You have to know how to swim
No, definitely not.
As part of the application process for physical therapy school, I spent a significant amount of time observing at a physical therapy clinic that offers aquatic therapy.
And there were absolutely clients who couldn’t swim. The physical therapists simply worked with them in standing-level only water. It wasn’t a big deal.
I have also observed aquatic therapists who will get into the water with clients, even working with clients who are partially paralyzed.
There are all sorts of vests and floatation devices that make way more things possible in the water than you might imagine.
Of course, this something that is entirely up to your comfort level, but the clients I observed in these sessions seemed to truly appreciate the pain relief and freedom of movement that the water offered.
Like lifeguards, aquatic therapists in the US must be certified in CPR and First Aid.
Myth #3: It won’t be challenging enough
On the other end of the spectrum is the concern some people have that pool exercise won’t be difficult enough.
This was actually one of my hesitations, when I first began to develop SI joint issues. So I held out, trying to stick to my land-based physical therapy exercises, as I got worse and worse.
Now I’m grateful that my chiropractor finally got on my case, and that’s why I’m getting on yours.
With all of the techniques and accessories that are available today, there is really no excuse for pool exercises being too easy. If they are, it just means you aren’t doing the right ones.
In recent years, professional athletes have even started using aquatic therapy both to heal from injuries and also as a preventative measure, doing one or two workouts a week in the pool instead of on land.
Even switching to one or two pool workouts a week can help lower your risk of injury, and also reduce inflammation (when you are submerged in water, something called “hydrostatic pressure” helps to flush out toxins and chemical byproducts out of your system more quickly).
Water also offers great cross-training benefits, because you’re able to challenge your body using different movement patterns than you normally do out of the water, with significantly less risk of injury.
Myth #4: It will be awkward or embarrassing
Well, I’m not going to tell you how to feel on this one. I totally get it. A lot of people aren’t comfortable putting on a bathing suit under any circumstances, much less when they’re struggling with an injury or other health concern.
I have a few things to say about this, however.
Anyone who judges you for trying to take care of yourself and heal an injury is not worth your time or respect.
And the vast majority of people are not going to judge you. At the place I did my shadowing, the physical therapists basically ran the pool. Everybody knew who they were and respected them, and stayed out of their (and their clients’) way. Based on my experience, it’s more likely people will ask questions about what you’re doing, or even be inspired by you, than judge you.
And, just as there are probably way more therapy techniques than you anticipated, there are also all sorts of accessories and workout gear you can purchase in order to feel comfortable.
I actually ended up buying a rash guard (like for surfing) because I was tired of dealing with the cold pool in the winter. People may have thought I was a bit… unique, but I actually got a lot of questions and compliments on it.
You have a right to be there.
For my US readers, the Americans with Disabilities Act gives you a lot of rights when it comes to using a gym or other public exercise facility when you have a physical limitation. This is especially true in regard to swimming pools, which as of 2010 must have accessible entries/exits. (This is true whether you are there for aquatic therapy, or simply working out at a gym pool).
So don’t let anyone make you feel embarrassed, or as though you don’t have a right to be there. (I sincerely doubt this will happen, but I’m just letting you know the lay of the land anyway!).
Myth #5 Aquatic therapy is boring
Okay, maybe this is just me, but I think aquatic exercise can be really fun. If you’re starting to get bored, there are a million ways to switch it up. There are so many exercises you can do, and ways you can challenge your body.
A great place to start is with the Aqua Jogger company. They make those pool running vests you’ve probably seen people wear, plus a ton of other accessories.
Did you even know there were pools you can “enter” first… and then be lowered into the water?
Check out the therapy pool in the video below:
This is probably my favorite aquatic therapy video, in general. Here is a patient who really struggles to move on land, but in the water, she is still able to improve both her coordination and strength.
If there was ever a video that inspired me to become a physical therapist, it’s this one. I just think this entire approach is transformative.
I have saved a lot more really great aquatic therapy videos into my Aquatic Therapy Youtube playlist. You seriously will not believe the possibilities!
A lot of the videos I really like are from Hydroworx (they make some of these really high-tech therapy pools). I think their whole approach is so cool.
Aquatic Therapy University— They offer training for physical therapists, occupational therapists, and even speech therapists in aquatic therapy. Although the video I’m linking to is intended for potential students, you might find it interesting because it provides a great overview of what aquatic therapy is all about.
Okay, that will have to be all for now.
There is honestly so much more to say about aquatic therapy– I could talk about it all day! But I don’t want to bombard you with too much great info, so I figure I should probably stop here for now.
But please… I strongly urge you to consider aquatic therapy on your road to healing!
If you have any comments or questions, please don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!