Physical rehab is used to help people recover from serious injuries. It can take months or even years to build muscle tissue strength and range of motion, but there’s a way to increase training efficiency that is helpful to people of all ages. Performing physical rehabilitation and exercise in water utilizes several principles and has a number of benefits that will speed recovery, boost your muscle performance, and help to reduce acute and chronic pain. Some of the benefits of aquatic therapy might surprise you.
Because water is denser than air, it exerts more pressure on you as you enter it than you’re used to experiencing. This is because the water constantly adjust its shape to accommodate your movements. It compresses your skin, muscles, and joints via a concept called hydrostatic pressure. This concept forces the heart and lungs to work harder because the chest cavity is under direct pressure. In addition, it acts like a compression bandage for the entire body, helping to relieve chronic muscle aches when a person is submerged neck-deep. Water has multiple therapeutic benefits that stem from hydrostatic pressure.
The nervous system has an acute network of nerve endings in the skin and muscles that can respond to the slightest stimulus. Under a constant stimulus, such as pressure from water that the body is not used to, the nervous system will automatically dull the reticular system, which is the part of the brain responsible for dealing with tactile sensory neurons. This can also help to dull muscle pain, making it easier for you to stretch your muscles to their full range of motion to speed up treatment. One of the biggest obstacles to physical therapy is the pain involved in moving injured muscles to restore their function. Patients often have to be coaxed by physical therapist, which can take up session time. Also, people who dislike being touched often feel calmer in water because their sense of touch isn’t as acute.
One of the biggest aquatic therapy benefits is the constant resistance water offers when compared to air. Swimming, water polo, and other aquatic exercises are some of the most energy-intensive workouts that exist. They don’t require bulky sets of resistance equipment and allow complete freedom of movement. Being forced to exert more energy to perform accustomed motions helps tone atrophied muscles faster by using more muscle fibers, and the presence of water helps reduce pain. It also helps to keep the person standing and minimizes a possible fear of falling due to water’s buoyancy.
The natural viscosity and resistance water provides forces you to move more slowly. This allows the brain to process the signals from your muscles more thoroughly because it has more time, an ideal benefit for rebuilding muscle memory. If someone has a neuromuscular condition or other impairment, muscle reeducation is made easier by the presence of water due to this property. Even outside of aquatic therapy, performing exercises in water makes you focus on taking the muscle properly through its full range of motion because you aren’t able to move as quickly and can think about how your body is moving.
During normal physical therapy, such as chiropractic treatment, the therapist can only work with one plane or side of your body at a time because you’re typically lying on a table or bed. Being in the water allows the therapist to swim around you in order to work with all parts of your body, so you will not have to worry about turning over when you are comfortable or when preparing to do another exercise. Aquatic therapy makes it easier for both you and your therapist.
Because of hydrostatic pressure, your heart is under constant pressure. Also, water typically used for aquatic therapy is kept at warmer-than-average temperatures (94 degrees Fahrenheit) because warmth promotes circulation. Increased blood flow to the limbs helps promote healing. For people with weaker heart muscles, this can compensate for poor circulation by getting oxygen-rich blood to reach the periphery of the body.
Warm water helps to dilate blood vessels, improving circulation to the muscles. Muscle soreness is caused by lactic acid buildup, and the increased blood flow carries lactic acid away from the muscles and eases soreness. Sore muscles after a hard workout can demotivate you because of the pain involved. Therefore, one of the biggest aquatic therapy benefits is that of relaxing muscles. This also helps prevent accidental injury from overtraining, reducing the level of stress inflicted on healing muscles, cartilage, or connective tissue.
Water flows in currents when you move through it. The gentle flow of water molecules around the body can acts as a natural form of massage, helping to further promote circulation and the relaxation of tired or sore muscles. By using equipment such as water paddles or aquatic gloves, the therapist can create gentle currents aimed at specific areas of the body, helping to work on problem areas.
There’s a reason most people like to go to the beach in summer: swimming and other water sports are considered fun. One of the most important aquatic therapy benefits is it helps promote a positive, reinforcing environment for you to work in. A physical therapy session could easily turn into a few hours of swimming and an occasional splashing contest. The lighthearted atmosphere that water promotes is vital to the healing process, especially because it’s easy to get discouraged when exercises are hard or too painful to perform. Although physical therapy is designed to rehabilitate the body, it can also benefit the mind.