Our clinic is located in a recreation center with a swimming facility. Many of our clients ask if they should swim to help their condition. Or, they have been told to swim for their back pain, or do water therapy for their arthritis pain. As is so many times in or blog, the answer is a definite maybe.
First, as always, is to determine what your goals and needs are for exercise and match these up with the proper exercise. Many people seem to think there are magic bullets with exercise. They think if I have back pain and go in a pool, or do a certain exercise the pain will go away. There is no question pool exercises or any exercises can be helpful, but only if the right exercise is used for the right problem.
Saying that, pool therapy and swimming does have many benefits. Water can be used both to help support the body or as a resistance mechanism. Here are 5 things water therapy can help with.
- Decrease joint stress: If you are having a hard time doing aerobic activities such as running or walking because of joint pain, water therapy can allow you to reduce joint stress while getting your heart rate up. This can be done with lap swimming or water aerobics type activities.
- Partial Weight Bearing Activities: After some injuries or surgeries, weight bearing can be restricted for a period of time. The buoyancy of the water can allow people who are allowed only partial weight bearing to initiate gait training, or other standing exercises earlier. This can allow more functional activities to start sooner.
- Spinal Decompression: This is another area where buoyancy comes into play. For some spinal conditions decompression can be helpful. Being in the water can assist in decompression and allow exercise to be less painful.
- Protected Movement: In some chronic pain situations, any movement can become painful. In these situations the brain begins to interpret many movements as unsafe and keeps you in pain to stop you from moving. This situation feeds on itself and can lead to ever reduced movement with continuing pain. Using a different stimulus with different input to the brain may allow more movement with less need to protect. Water therapy gives a very different sensory input and may allow movement to progress and eventually crossover to out of water activity.
- Cross Training: Swimming is a great alternative aerobic activity. Many aerobic activities are lower extremity dominant (walking, running, cycling) and people who do large amounts of training can run into issues with their hips, knees, and feet. Swimming is upper body dominant, and can allow continued training with a different force on the body.
As you can see water therapy can have its benefits. If you have any of these issues or want to diversify a training program water therapy or swimming may be for you.