There are many instances when treating a patient in the water is better than treating them on land. Aquatic physical therapy is a highly effective, safe treatment tool to achieve successful outcomes. But, what factors go into determining whether to use aquatic physical therapy or employ land only protocols? A good place to start is by understanding why water works. Then, there are a key questions to answer that will help you conclude what form of treatment is the best approach to take.
The following are basic definitions of water. By familiarizing yourself with these terms, you can maximize aquatic physical therapy outcomes.
Buoyancy: the ability to off load the body while in water. It does the opposite of gravity, creating unique advantages. For instance, reducing the weight of a limb or decompressing the spine or surgical site to allow for freedom of movement and simulated tasks without fear of injury or pain.
Viscosity: provides a resistance that can be combined with the support of a body part while allowing for resistance in any direction. It can be increased or decreased for the person’s tolerance and stopped in an instant without causing pain.
Hydrostatic Pressure: provides a graded pressure on the deepest part of the submerged body part. It increases fluid return to the heart.
Thermal Shifts: allows for the warming of tissue without heating and causes relaxation that increases the tolerance for stretch and manual treatment without the use of external modalities.
Surface Tension: the abrupt change from buoyant to gravitational forces allows for increased arousal and need for the body to adapt in an instance.
Current: provides support and interval resistance. Working with or against the flow allows for different exercises and therapy protocols. Provides the ability to efficiently progress patient from one session to the next. Offers versatility of exercises from one session to the next.
Refraction: provides a stimulus to the patient to improve posture and reduce the dependence on visual feedback.
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