Aquatic Therapy for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Aquatic Therapy for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a well known but frequently misunderstood condition. Many people — even professional physical therapists — confuse it with osteoarthritis (OA), a condition that is similar, but stems from different causes and demands a separate treatment approach.

Unlike OA, rheumatoid arthritis can affect patients at any age. It is not caused by the deterioration of joints but by an autoimmune disorder. Because of this, onset can be rapid, with a patient’s life and mobility changing almost overnight. Since a patient will not have time to “adjust” their body to the disease’s effects, physical therapy — which remains one of the most common forms of treatment — must take a different approach than when treating OA.

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Kathy’s Story

Many people have heard of Rheumatoid arthritis, but do you know how paralyzing it can be to live with? Well, Kathy Ellis sure did.

Kathy Ellis was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis after suffering from a broken foot that healed, but the pain never subsided. Little did she know, but she had been suffering from rheumatoid arthritis for a while prior to that incident. Along with the rheumatoid arthritis, Kathy has suffered her whole life with asthma which has prevented her from pursuing any aerobic activities all together.

Well, her diagnosis led her to the HydroWorx pool at the Robert L. Sharp Health and Fitness Center at Jenks High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Due to her immobility and lack of physical activity in her past, she started our her therapy very slow. Head trainer, Herb Rhea, had her begin walking at 0.5mph to 1.0mph. Kathy was unable to walk up any stairs and says ‘her hips were frozen’. The physical therapy began with walking for about 7 to 8 minutes at a time.

Due to the buoyancy of the water, Kathy was able to walk carrying only 15% of her body weight, allowing her to do things that doctors told her she could not do on land. Walking underwater removes up to 85%- 90% of your body weight’, relieving pressure from your joints. Kathy has progressed so much in her rehab that she has even surprised herself. From 1.0mph at 8 minutes at a time up to 4.5mph for about 35 to 40 minutes is a huge accomplishment. But not only that, Kathy is now jogging in the water, something she has never done before.

Kathy has not only improved, she has exceeded her own goals and expectations. She has lost weight from the therapy and training sessions and she is getting in great shape. Since beginning her aquatic therapy, Kathy has not suffered from one asthma attack.

Kathy Ellis has taken her fitness to a whole new level. Her aquatic therapy sessions consist of walking with increasing speed, walking with the resistance jets and various exercises with resistance. Kathy’s use of the underwater treadmill has greatly improved her balance as well, something that is very important especially with age. She is able to walk underwater and release her grip from the bars for extended periods of time. And because of all of her progress, she has become one of the most positive and optimistic people you will ever meet!

Kathy Ellis is just one example of how aquatic therapy in a HydroWorx pool can alter the way someone with Rheumatoid Arthritis lives their life, for the better. Watch her training session in the pool here as trainer Herb Rhea discusses her progress and aquatic therapy regiment.

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Page updated on: July 9, 2020


6 comments on “Aquatic Therapy for Rheumatoid Arthritis”

    1. Each client and plan of care is going to be a bit different for each customer and how they are tolerating the treatments.
      We know land based therapy should always be apart of the treatment plan especially as you look to discharging your patients. What we have seen other customers do is start heavier with aquatic in the beginning of their plan of care while they get the clients pain under control, increase mobility, range of motion, increase strength and compliance with the program. As they progress weeks out start adding more land based therapy.

    1. The benefit of exercise and movement in water is to relieve pain and maintain or increase fitness levels. Swimming is certainly a viable option if it reduces the pain and keeps you moving! It may not have the same muscle strengthening benefits as underwater treadmill running.

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