Aquatic Therapy for Patients with Arthritis

Aquatic Therapy for Patients with Arthritis

The following article is courtesy of guest blogger Daniel Seidler, PT, Executive Director, Westchester Square Physical Therapy ( 

“In the current healthcare environment, the Hydroworx pool is an ideal tool for individuals with arthritis.” – Dan Seidler, PT, Executive Director, Westchester Square Physical Therapy

OA in a Painfree World: Aquatic Therapy for Patients with Arthritis

Ask any physical therapist to name the most common complaints of their patients and it’s almost certain osteoarthritis will be near the top of that list. Statistical evidence suggests that osteoarthritis is on the rise — from 1990 to 2005, the percentage of American adults exhibiting some form of OA jumped over 20%, from 21 million to 26.9 million.

This rapid increase represents one of the clearest public health implications of an aging population. For the more than one-third of adults over 65 suffering from OA, there is a pressing need for more physical therapy specialists with the tools and knowledge necessary to help aging adults deal with the condition’s effects.

Many patients with osteoarthritis (OA) have told me: “When you have arthritis you often just don’t want to move.”

Besides the pain of movement, the impact of contact with the ground causes severe pain with every step. Walking accentuates this force because the body’s weight is repeatedly shifted entirely onto the affected side. Consequently, someone with an arthritic joint will regularly compensate or limp in order to minimize the weight on that injured limb or side of the body. Compensations like those often lead to other asymmetries and then one dysfunctional body part evolves into multiple problems.

The pain of arthritis will also cause many people to limit their activity levels. The results are increased swelling/edema, stiffness, weakness and, typically, weight gain. These symptoms lead to more pain and the cycle continues and progresses.

When a patient with arthritis presents to physical therapy, the primary objective of the PT is to maximize the patient’s overall function with minimal compensation over the long-term. In layman’s terms, we want them to be able to do as much as possible without injuring something else.

For example, if a patient has OA of his/her right knee, he/she will commonly walk on a partially bent knee to avoid further injuring or causing more pain to the joint. The common effect is hip or back pain, particularly with excessive use.

If we can help that patient move and walk more normally, we can significantly reduce the effects on the individual’s entire body. Practicing normal movement in a pain-free environment enables progression to everyday pain-free movement during regular daily activities. Water offers that pain-free environment.

Aquatic therapy is an invaluable tool for patients with OA, particularly in the latter stages of the disease.

The hydrostatic pressure of a pool provides an effective means of reducing swelling. The 93-degree waters of our HydroWorx pool ease pain and facilitate movement, and the buoyancy of water reduces the effects of gravity. These natural qualities combined with the unique features of the HydroWorx pool (e.g., the treadmill, parallel bars, resistance jets, steps, exercise platform, massage hose) make it the ultimate rehab tool for patients with arthritis.

A warm pool allows arthritic joints to move as if they’ve been lubricated like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz. Warm water feels great on sore joints and the buoyant properties assist with movement. The beauty of the HydroWorx pool is the ability to walk or jog on a treadmill in this buoyant environment. Instead of experiencing pain every time an arthritic limb makes contact with the ground, the user feels as if they are floating with every step. Chest-deep water unweights the body 80%. That means that a 200-pound individual feels as if he or she weighs a mere 40 pounds!

Decreased pain and increased mobility allow a patient, even one with severe arthritis, to endure a vigorous workout without the normal side-effects. Think of the long-term benefits: increased mobility, increased strength, improved cardiovascular endurance, weight loss, and related decreased pain, in addition to improved gait and decreased risk of falls.

Our patients and clients with arthritis can’t live without their regular sessions on the HydroWorx treadmill. For many of them, it’s become a part of their regular routine and they continue with us as cash clients long after their insurance PT benefits are used up.

In the current healthcare environment, the Hydroworx pool is an ideal tool for individuals with arthritis.

Daniel Seidler, PT

Executive Director, Westchester Square Physical Therapy

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Twitter – @dseidler

Page Updated on: March 18, 2020


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