The Benefits of Hydrotherapy in Physiotherapy

Hydrotherapy is as simple as it sounds – therapy within a pool. There are myriad of reasons why your physiotherapist may suggest hydrotherapy for you, and a number of injuries that may benefit from it.

Firstly, let’s explore what hydrotherapy actually is. It is not synchronised swimming, nor is it water aerobics. Hydrotherapy should be like many other physiotherapy-led rehabilitation exercise programs. It should be specific to you, and your injury or impairment, and it should gradually progress you towards your goals. It is a series of exercises that have been prescribed by your physiotherapist that is completed in a pool, usually heated to 34°. A hydrotherapy specific pool will usually have a series of gradual steps, or a ramp, or a hoist to assist those people who cannot dive or enter a conventional lap pool as easily. A lap pool is also usually at a depth that a person can still comfortably stand up with their head and chest out of the water, and will only go as deep to allow someone to stand on their tip toes and keep their head above water.

To put it in perspective, a lap swimming pool will usually be heated to 28° and will only have a ladder for exercise. This cooler temperature allows people to complete a more vigorous workout in a more comfortable environment.

Completing the exercises in a warm water environment helps in a couple of key ways. Firstly, the warm water helps to loosen up stiff muscles and joints and allows us to relax into movements more freely. The warm water helps to reduce painful movements that could not be completed on land.

Secondly, the benefit of water help us to be more buoyant, or float better. The buoyancy reduces the amount of weight and therefore stress and strain through painful joints. Our head weighs around 4-5kg, and therefore if we are only keeping our head above water, we only need to carry a portion of our body weight. The shallower we go in the pool, ie more of the body that is out of the water, the more weight we need to carry.

Hydrotherapy can also be wonderful in the management of falls and balance prevention. The constantly moving water puts pressure on our bodies that we need to upright ourselves and resist against the water. There are small movements of the feet and ankles below the surface of the water that are great in retraining our balance receptors to prevent trips or stumbles.

Hydrotherapy can incorporate a series of exercises, including, but not limited to, squats, calf raises, walking or even running. Hydrotherapy can help in the process of rehabilitation for a number of injuries or impairments, for example:

  • Total joint replacements (including hip and knee replacements)
  • After a fracture or broken bone to allow progressive weight bearing as your fracture heals
  • Management of osteoarthritis
  • Return to running programs for long term tendon injuries (like hamstring or Achilles tendinopathies)

Hydrotherapy pools are available at some local community centres, most rehabilitation hospitals and even some larger physiotherapy clinics. Rest assured, if you can’t swim a hydrotherapy pool will be a great thing for you. There will always be a spot where you can stand comfortably out of the water without the need to swim.

Your physiotherapist will recommend certain equipment requirements for you, if needed, including things like floatation devices, paddle boards, pool noodles and many more. Sometimes, all you need is yourself. Your physiotherapist may be in the pool with you conducting a small group session or a one on one session, or may prescribe you a program you can complete independently in your own time.

How can my physio help me with my broken ankle?

The Importance of Evidence Based Practice in Physiotherapy

The Benefits of Hydrotherapy in Physiotherapy