What’s as warm as a steam sauna, as comforting as a blanket, as effective as weightlifting, and as soothing as a massage?
The answer is – Aqua Therapy!
Some also refer to it as hydro therapy, warm water therapy, water aerobics, or swimming pool workouts. For now, we’ll stick with the general term, aqua therapy.
As a fitness program, aqua therapy provides unique ways to strengthen muscles, relieve pain, improve balance, and restore joint health. And all of these benefits are achieved without harmful or damaging impact to the body.
While other fitness activities provide benefits for the fibromyalgia body – walking, yoga, tai chi, qigong, low impact workout DVDs, stretching, etc. – aqua therapy is a perfectly suited fitness solution for those who have chronic pain and mobility concerns. It’s a great resource to add to your already existing variety of fitness routines. Remember that variety provides a powerful key to fitness success.
In general, when it comes to encouraging the fibromyalgia community to exercise or embrace a fitness regimen, here are the common objections I hear:
- I can’t because I’m in pain.
- I don’t want to injure myself and hurt worse than I do now.
- I don’t have enough room at home to get a good workout.
- I don’t have the proper equipment or facility at home.
- I don’t know how to move or what to do on my own.
- I need consistent supervision, encouragement, and accountability.
Interestingly, each of these objections can be addressed by participating in an aqua therapy class in your local area.
The arthritis community has long endorsed this form of therapy as it provides healing benefits for the commonly sore, stiff, and achy joints affected by both osteo and rheumatoid arthritis. Many studies have been done showing the effectiveness of aqua therapy for arthritis participants and the same benefits can translate to the fibromyalgia and chronic health community.
Here are a dozen reasons to give aqua therapy a try:
- Warm water promotes muscle relaxation.
- Water provides resistance for strength training and avoids direct impact on the joints.
- Warm water decreases overall pain levels and lessens muscle pain sensitivity.
- Greater opportunity for fitness success occurs when trained and skilled professional teachers are on site to supervise.
- Aqua therapy is shown to increase overall mobility.
- Swimming know-how is not necessary in order to participate .
- Warm water provides massage-like effects.
- Ease of exercise is greatly improved due to the buoyancy factor.
- Warm water has therapeutic benefits.
- Aqua therapy classes provide accountability and group support.
- Aqua therapy works well for those who are currently sedentary or inactive.
- Water therapy provides more effective muscle toning than when using weights or impact aerobics alone.
Each of the above benefits demonstrates the unique properties of aqua therapy. There are essentially three strategic components of warm water that provide therapeutic results.
- WARMTH/THERAPUTIC TEMPERATURE: Warm water facilitates muscle relaxation, reduces swelling and spasms, and increases peripheral circulation. By the way, there is no “perfect” swimming pool temperature and opinions abound on this subject. The general consensus seems to be that for aqua therapy purposes, a water temperature of about 90 degrees (plus or minus 5 degrees) is ideal.
- BOUYANCY: While it’s obvious that buoyancy lessens the impact on joints – it may surprise you to learn exactly how much. Consider that for every pound of body weight, we can multiply that number by 4 to approximate how many pounds of pressure are exerted on our joints (knees especially) as we walk, run, or exercise. That’s an amazing amount of pressure! So, if an average 200 pound man weighs a mere 16-20 pounds in fresh water, think of the reduced impact on his joints due to this amazing buoyancy factor.
- HYDROSTATIC PRESSURE: Water submersion supports and applies even pressure on the body from all sides. This helps in dealing with balance issues as well as with helping to reduce overall swelling and improve circulation at a surface level. The deeper the body is submerged, the greater the pressure. Therefore, the pressure is easily regulated by the attendee and the observing therapist.
It’s easy to see why aqua therapy is a fitness therapeutic tool of choice preferred by physical therapists and fitness therapy specialists. An Australian study showed aqua therapy to be particularly beneficial for those who found other forms of therapy too difficult to begin. And, of course, there’s the added benefit of the regular accountability experienced from a routine class schedule and the support from others in the class. They even found that physical benefits experienced by attendees extended beyond the length of the classes.
For those dealing with joint pain (among other pain concerns), any type of fitness program that can create a stronger and more toned body without potential damage is ideal. To find a therapy pool near you, check out your local Arthritis Foundation office, YMCA, YWCA, or fitness and health clubs in your area. Call to see if they offer warm water therapy classes. Call your doctor’s office to see if their physical therapy referrals have any recommendations. Ask for referrals from local chiropractors, massage therapists, or support groups, etc.
Keep in mind that many senior centers also have recommendations for aqua therapy classes. Age may not be a deterrent. Many senior centers encourage participation in their fitness programs from those of any age who have limited mobility issues.
NOTE: If available, look for saltwater pools rather than ones using chemical compounds such as chlorine. Many public pools – and especially therapeutic pools – are now switching to salt water systems for the health and wellness of their members.
Are you ready to take the plunge? The coldest season of the year is the perfect time to try out the warm and soothing benefits that aqua therapy has to offer.
Sue Ingebretson (www.RebuildingWellness.com) is an author, speaker, certified holistic health care practitioner and the director of program development for the Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Center at California State University, Fullerton. She is also a Patient Advocate/Fibromyalgia Expert for the Alliance Health website and a Fibromyalgia editor for the ProHealth website community.
Her #1 Amazon best-selling chronic illness book, FibroWHYalgia, details her own journey from chronic illness to chronic wellness. She is also the creator of the FibroFrog™– a therapeutic stress-relieving tool which provides powerful healing benefits with fun and whimsy.
1. “Aquatic Therapy.” Aquahab Physical Therapy.
2. Schachner, J. “Benefits of Aquatic Therapy for the Arthritic Patient.” Athletico Physical Therapy. June 26, 2012.
3. “Aquatic Exercise and Tai Chi Effective Therapy for Osteoarthritis.” Arthritis Foundation.