We think of swimming as summer fun, but it can be serious therapy, too. For arthritis patients, aquatic exercise can shift a slow, grinding lifestyle into high gear.
“There’s a national movement to increase the activity level of arthritis patients,” says Dr. Virginia Kraus, a Duke University Medical Center researcher studying the effects of exercise on patients with the joint disease. “And there’s been an increasing awareness of the importance of physical activity for the prevention of arthritis-related disability and cardiovascular disease.”
To exercise safely, arthritis patients need to minimize the load on their joints. One of the best ways to do that is through aquatic therapy. In water the body weighs an eighth of what it does on land, so the joint load is minimized while movement can be maximized — without fear of injury or joint stress.
Her studies have shown that water exercise improves a patient’s ability to walk on land and decreases overall disability. It may also help remove substances that can build up and harm the joints. Patients in Kraus’s studies show reduced pain and disability and a better overall sense of well-being, she reports.
Joint movement helps preserve joint range of motion, maintains muscle strength and also enhances joint nutrition – by increasing blood flow and the flow of nutrients in and out of cartilage.