Improving balance and stability is a common goal of hydrotherapy, also known as aquatic therapy. Immersing a person in water reduces the force of their body weight on their joints. Depending on the circumstances, hydrotherapy can eliminate between 20% and 100% of a person’s body weight.
Jump to Sections:
- The Power of HydroTherapy
- Balance and Stability Training With HydroWorx
- Balance Training and Support for Active Older Adults
- Neurological and Spinal Cord Rehabilitation
- Athletic Training
- Weight Loss Treatments
- Pediatric Therapy
- The Benefits of Using Aquatic Equipment in Your Facility
- How to Improve Balance: A Case Study
- Contact HydroWorx to Discuss Aquatic Equipment Options for Balance and Stability Support
The reduction in body weight means that someone with a chronic condition or orthopedic injury can perform balance and stability exercises in the water that they wouldn’t be able to do on solid ground. The same applies to people who are experiencing age-related body changes. In the water, the fear of falling is eliminated. A person can perform exercises while feeling confident they will not fall over or injure themselves.
Who can benefit from aquatic therapy? A wide variety of people can take advantage of this technique, including older adults, injured athletes, people looking to lose weight and young children. Learn more about the power of hydrotherapy below, including how to improve balance with aquatic therapy.
The Power of HydroTherapy
Whether you operate a physical therapy facility or older adult community, there are many ways to use HydroWorx aquatic therapy pools to help patients improve balance and stability. Numerous studies and ample research have demonstrated the value of hydrotherapy in the following situations:
- Older adult conditioning and wellness: One study conducted at the University of Wisconsin aimed to evaluate the health benefits of aquatic therapy for active, older adults. During the five-week study, participants exercised for 40 minutes twice a week on a HydroWorx underwater treadmill. The study participants reported feeling physically and psychologically better during the period. Among the improvements they reported were improved sleep quality, better flexibility and reduced joint pain.
- Neurological and spinal cord rehabilitation: Physical therapists can work with patients in a therapy pool at 60% weightlessnessto help them regain lost motor skills. HydroWorx therapy pools also include a massage hose, which can help minimize discomfort through a focused, penetrating massage. Among the benefits of hydrotherapy for neurological patients are improved balance and stability, better lumbar stabilization, improved gait and increased endurance, strength and range of motion.
- Athletic training: Several studies have examined the benefits of aquatic therapy for athletes. One study aimed to determine if the lactate threshold, the point at which lactic acid starts building up in the bloodstream, was different when someone ran in water or on land. It concluded that hydrotherapy can be more beneficial for reducing stress on the joints compared to land running. Other studies examining the effects of hydrotherapy on athletic training analyzed muscle and strength gain and metabolic cost.
- Weight loss treatments: HydroWorx fitness pools have featured on programs such as “The Biggest Loser” as an effective way to help people lose weight. Because people do not need to support their full body weight while in an exercise pool, they can perform exercises that would be too challenging on dry land. Hydrotherapy also reduces pressure on the joints and improves balance making it easier for people to exercise. One 12-week study demonstrated that underwater treadmill training improved body composition and led to modest weight loss in participants, without dietary changes.
- Pediatric therapy: Hydrotherapy works for more than just adult patients. It can be helpful for children as well. The moveable floors of the HydroWorx 1200 and 2000 therapy pools can accommodate varying heights and can even create a feeling of complete weightlessness in children when used with flotation belts or balance rings. Pediatric physical therapists can use hydrotherapy to help improve their young patients’ balance, mobility, strength and flexibility.
Balance and Stability Training With HydroWorx
People can develop balance problems for various reasons. Some factors that contribute to balance issues include:
- Medication side effects.
- Neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease.
- Weak joints and muscles.
- Poor eyesight.
- Inner ear issues.
Balance problems and instability can interfere with daily life. Those with balance problems can be afraid to move on their own, as walking without assistance can be a fall risk. This only makes the problem worse. HydroWorx therapy and fitness pools can help restore patients’ confidence through improving their stability and balance.
Some benefits of aquatic therapy for balance and stability training include:
- Buoyancy for ease of muscle movement and pain: People with balance trouble also often have trouble with their gait. Gait and balance training with a hydro pool help people learn to correct how they walk, without worrying that they will fall. Several of water’s properties make hydrotherapy ideal for helping people learn or relearn to walk. The water’s buoyancy lowers gravity’s force on a patient. It can make a 200-pound man up to 90% lighter, depending on the water level. Being nearly weightless in the water allows a patient to move more easily, even with weaker muscles. It also reduces pain connected to weight-bearing exercises.
- Warmth for the nervous system and muscle relaxation: The warm temperature of the water used in a therapy pool can help lower anxiety levels in patients, relax muscles and reduce pain they might experience when performing similar exercises on land.
- Viscosity to build strength: The water also provides support to patients, helping them stay upright during unstable exercises. A study from Utah State University found that performing unstable exercises in the water reduced fall risk and improved muscular coordination.
- No fear of falling: Water actually creates a more unstable environment for patients to work on their balance while also providing a safer setting. If a person “falls” in the water, they will not come crashing down the way they would on land. Reducing the fear of falling can help patients improve their dynamic balance.A fear of falling can limit a patient’s life. They might not leave their house as much as they would like and might be too afraid to travel from one floor of their home to the next.
- Turbulence of water or additional resistance to challenge balance: The environment created by water is actually more challenging to stand or maintain balance in compared to a land environment. Adding resistance, either by natural water movement or by jets, gives the ability to progress clients with additional challenges. The hydrostatic pressure created by the water allows people to perform exercises more efficiently, as their heart rate reduces and their lymphatic system functions better.
Balance Training and Support for Active Older Adults
The body changes as people get older. Muscle mass decreases and the joints lose flexibility, due to thinning cartilage and shorter ligaments. Changes in stability and balance can increase fall risk in older individuals. As a result of these changes in the body, many people believe older adults can’t exercise as intensely as they did when they were younger.
However, older adults can still enjoy and benefit from intense exercise. The type of exercise they enjoy might need to change from what they did when they were younger, but that does not mean working out is impossible. Aquatics are particularly beneficial for older adults. Stability training with aquatic therapy reduces the pressure placed on the joints by land-based exercise. A person submerged up to their neck in a fitness pool will need to support just the weight of their head, about 15 pounds.
Aquatic therapy to improve balance also benefits older adults who have been injured and are hoping to return to their active lives as soon as possible. The water’s buoyancy makes it easier for a physical therapist to lead a patient through exercises that focus on strengthening a single muscle group without the risk of injuries associated with falls. Resistance jets in a therapy pool help patients better their balance, as well. They can perform exercises in the water with the jets on as an added challenge without fearing they will be knocked over and get injured.
Among the additional benefits of HydroWorx fitness and therapy pools for active older adult conditioning and wellness are:
- Improvement in posture.
- Reduction in pain.
- Improvement in sleep quality.
- Better management of Alzheimer’s symptoms.
- Better bone health.
For a real-world example of the benefits of aquatic therapy for active, older adults, look to the Saluda Nursing Center in South Carolina. Many of the nursing center’s residents were interested in gaining strength, reducing symptoms of osteoarthritis and osteoporosis, restoring balance and improving mobility. A common fear shared by the patients was that of falling, which could risk further injury.
The nursing center’s physical therapists use a HydroWorx therapy pool, and they have seen several benefits from it. The physical therapists themselves noted that using the therapy and fitness pool has increased patient compliance. People are more excited about their exercise and physical therapy sessions, as the pools provide several options for exercise. Variety is the spice of life — and physical therapy. The more interesting a physical therapist can make a session, the more likely a patient is to stick with it.
The therapy pools are also easy for patients to use. Since the pool floor is moveable, they can get in and out smoothly. The massage hose also adds a bit of interest to training and therapy sessions. As a reward for a tough session, the physical therapists offer their patients a relaxing massage to strip out lactic acid and relax sore muscles.
Offering hydrotherapy at a retirement community or nursing center does more than just benefit the patients who are already residents. Hydrotherapy can be a determining factor when people are looking for a place to live.
Neurological and Spinal Cord Rehabilitation
Neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and spinal cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leak can all affect stability and balance. The conditions alter how the nervous system and brain communicate, leading to balance difficulties. Several studies have examined the benefits of hydrotherapy for people with neurological conditions, demonstrating consistently positive results.
Among the benefits of HydroWorx for neurological rehabilitation are:
- Warm water helps with sensory stimulation and pain management.
- The water’s buoyancy helps with balance, lumbar stabilization, mobility and confidence.
- The moveable floor helps patients in and out of the pool.
- The use of weightlessness helps reteach motor skills.
- Aquatics help reduce the fear of falling and prevent falls.
There have also been individual case studies that examine the benefits of aquatic therapy for people with particular neurological conditions. In one case, a woman diagnosed with spinal CSF leak found that she was unable to exercise on land. Spinal CSF limited her ability to even sit or stand upright. But in the water, it was a different story.
Prior to discovering hydrotherapy, the woman, Connie, spent two years bedridden. Her weight dropped to 90 pounds, and she developed muscle weakness. Her physical therapist suggested she try aquatic therapy using the HydroWorx 500 Series pool. The jets in the pool force her to focus on her balance and offer resistance as she runs. The adjustable water level allows her to get the right water level when in the pool, so she has the right amount of pressure to stay upright.
Hydrotherapy is also beneficial for people with Parkinson’s disease and is recommended for patients by the American Parkinson Disease Association. One study from 2011 found that patients with Parkinson’s who underwent aquatic therapy saw more improvement in their postural stability compared to those who practiced with land-based exercises.
Additional studies have looked at the benefits of hydrotherapy for people who have had a stroke. Using an underwater treadmill with resistance jets led to greater improvement in gait velocity, step and stride length, cadence and swing phase compared to land-based exercises.
Hydrotherapy can help athletes who have experienced an injury get back into the game. It can also be used to help improve performance and stamina.
Some benefits of HydroWorx fitness pools for athletes include:
- Decreased risk of injury.
- Extended athletic longevity.
- High-level cardiovascular exercise opportunities.
When an athlete is in the water, the water’s hydrostatic pressure is against them at all times. The water pressure is notably higher than the air pressure, which helps improve a person’s stability, balance and posture. There is also resistance on the athlete from all sides, forcing them to work harder, build more strength and improve their cardiovascular functioning.
Aquatic therapy can also help reduce the risk of injury to athletes, enabling them to exercise without placing added strain on their bodies. An athlete can train for the same amount of time or longer in the water than they can on land.
Weight Loss Treatments
Participants on NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” aren’t the only ones who have discovered the benefits of hydrotherapy for weight loss. Exercising in the water versus on land can help a person burn two more calories per minute. Water-based exercises ease pressure on the joints and improve a person’s balance, making these activities easier to perform without the risk of falling.
The benefits of HydroWorx for weight loss include:
- Increased weightlessness to reduce stress on the body.
- Increased calorie burn.
- Reduced pressure on the joints.
One study from Texas A&M University compared running on an underwater treadmill to running on land. It found that each option provided the same cardiovascular benefits, but participants who used the underwater treadmill gained more muscle mass than those who ran on land. Eight percent of the study’s participants also stated they found it more enjoyable to run underwater compared to on land. When people enjoy the exercise they do, they are more likely to stick with it, making weight loss more possible.
It’s also possible to change the perceived difficulty of a workout by changing the water depth. A study from the University of Idaho revealed different heart rates, perceived effort levels and energy expenditure levels based on how deep the water was. The three measures increased notably when the water depth was lowered by 20 centimeters. The findings suggest that altering the depth of the water can create a customizable workout experience for those who want to lose weight.
Aquatic therapy is sometimes used to help children improve their balance and achieve other physical therapy goals. The warmth of the water provides children with sensory stimulation, while the underwater treadmill can help them improve their gait and stability.
When used as part of pediatric physical therapy, some benefits of HydroWorx include:
- Underwater treadmill speeds can be slowed down considerably for more ease for younger children.
- The warmth of the water helps children relax.
- Resistance jets help improve balance.
HydroWorx 2000 and 1200 Series therapy pools both have moveable floors, making them ideal for use in pediatric therapy. The moveable floor allows a physical therapist to adjust the depth of the pool from just a few inches to 6 feet. The floor also makes it easy for small children to enter and exit the pool. Freestanding units, such as the HydroWorx 300 and EVO, offer adjustable water depth to accommodate children as well.
Adjusting the underwater treadmill’s speed can help significantly in meeting a child’s needs. A physical therapist can reduce the speed as needed to help children develop crawling, walking or running skills.
The Benefits of Using Aquatic Equipment in Your Facility
Offering hydrotherapy is an excellent way to set your physical therapy facility apart from the competition. Hydrotherapy equipment can take many forms, from pools with moveable floors and underwater treadmills to freestanding underwater treadmill units that you can place in an existing space at your facility.
Once you install the equipment, you can market to those in the community to inform them of your new offerings. Your existing client base might be thrilled to take advantage of the newest equipment. This can also attract new clients to your facility.
By adding aquatic equipment, you might be able to offer more services than you did previously. Patients who have a specific concern or disorder, such as a neurological condition, might be more likely to book appointments at your facility if they know they can take advantage of the HydroWorx pool or underwater treadmills available there. One of the best qualities of HydroWorx is that we are not limited to in-ground pools. Treadmills and freestanding options like the HydroWorx EVO allow for convenient and easy integration within your facility.
How to Improve Balance: A Case Study
Meet Jack, an 88-year-old man who has peripheral neuropathy. The neuropathy made balance difficult for Jack, and he experienced numerous falls. In addition to affecting his balance, the neuropathy also impacted Jack’s speed and strength. His physical therapist described him as “weak and moving slowly” at the start of his therapy.
After two-and-a-half months of walking on the underwater treadmill, Jack had shown improvement across all measures, including balance, gait efficiency and leg strength. Since starting hydrotherapy, Jack only had one fall in a two-and-a-half month period.
Contact HydroWorx to Discuss Aquatic Equipment Options for Balance and Stability Support
Aquatic therapy can help improve balance and stability in older adults, injured athletes and people with certain neurological conditions. HydroWorx offers multiple aquatic equipment options to help your physical therapy facility begin offering hydrotherapy to patients. Contact us today to learn more and request a free product kit. You can also visit us on the road by scheduling a stop with our mobile showroom.