When you think of swimming at a pool, you probably envision a leisurely dip — or even a rigorous workout.
Water-based activities can be both of these things. But they also present an excellent setting for rehabilitation and recovery following an injury. And you don’t have to be a competitive swimmer to participate.
Many people — not just athletes — who have experienced an injury can benefit from swimming and other types of aquatic therapy.
What is Aquatic Therapy?
Aquatic therapy, or water-based therapy, is a specialized form of physical therapy that occurs in the water.
Doing aquatic therapy can be great for the body. It offers a great alternative to more traditional physical therapy. That’s especially true for patients who cannot participate in certain exercises or movements due to joint pain, muscle weakness, or injury.
Plus, there is no requirement to know how to swim before participating in aquatic therapy.
Why Aquatic Therapy?
What makes water such a wonderful medium for rehabilitation? The key is buoyancy. Water helps keep your body afloat, but it also provides resistance that will make certain movements more challenging.
Aquatic therapy can help your body in many ways:
- It can strengthen muscles and ligaments.
- It can improve your cardiovascular fitness.
- It can increase your flexibility and range of motion.
- It can serve as a safe and effective workout.
Aquatic therapy gently supports your body, particularly injured areas. This type of rehab can be beneficial for many individuals with a wide variety of conditions and injuries. It can be a particularly useful rehabilitation option for those who:
- Have arthritis or chronic pain.
- Have balance disorders.
- Are recovering from surgery or injuries.
- Have fibromyalgia.
What are the benefits?
There are many benefits associated with aquatic therapy, including:
Less pressure on the body
The buoyancy of water helps support your body weight, taking the pressure off joints. This makes swimming and other water-based activities good choices for people who have suffered knee injuries, for example.
A no-weight workout
Swimming is a non-weight-bearing activity, which means that it can be a safe and comfortable exercise for people with back pain and similar issues.
Swimming and other water-based activities are considered low-impact options for exercise. This means that they are easy on the joints and performed fluidly. Land workouts like running can be hard on the joints (or have a higher impact on them).
Different swim strokes can work various parts of your body. For example, the backstroke can be more comfortable for those who have a back injury because it allows you to float on your back without stressing it.
Working out in water provides you with good exercise. It helps maintain cardiovascular fitness at a time when injuries might otherwise keep you on the sidelines.
Accessible to many
Water workouts offer a wide variety of options for rehabilitation, no matter your age or swimming ability.
Your physical therapist can recommend which aquatic therapy exercises are best for you depending on your level of fitness and current state of health. Activities may range from simple floating and walking in water, to more strenuous exercises such as water “jogging” and, of course, swimming.
For more information, visit UPMC Centers for Rehab Services.
Editor's Note: This gallery was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .
The UPMC Rehabilitation Institute offers inpatient, outpatient, and transitional rehabilitation, as well as outpatient physician services so that care is available to meet the needs of our patients at each phase of the recovery process. Renowned physiatrists from the University of Pittsburgh Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, as well as highly trained physical, occupational, and speech therapists, provide individualized care in 12 inpatient units within acute care hospitals and over 80 outpatient locations close to home and work.