Waking up stiff. Pain in the joints. A loss of motion in the knees, hips and spine.
These, and more, are common ailments patients with arthritis, the inflammation of one or more of joints, present when they visit Paul Reed, PT, DPT, the Clinical Director at the First Colonial location in Virginia Beach.
“When I see a patient who has daily pain going up and down stairs, pain with squatting, joint pain on both sides of their body or intolerance to cold, the aquatic therapy pool immediately comes to mind,” Reed said.
Men, women and yes, even children, living with arthritis, basically suffer from pain as elements of their joints disintegrate.
“The most common type of arthritis, osteoarthritis involves wear-and-tear damage to your joint’s cartilage — the hard, slick coating on the ends of bones,” according to the Mayo Clinic. “Enough damage can result in bone grinding directly on bone, which causes pain and restricted movement. This wear and tear can occur over many years, or it can be hastened by a joint injury or infection.”
While there is little that can be done to change the process of arthritis, effort can be made to slow the progress, Reed said.
Reed focuses on stabilizing the muscles around the joint, or as he says, improving the integrity of the joint. And he uses the pool to do that.
When patients are submerged in a therapeutic pool chest-deep or higher, it’s almost like they’re exercising weightless. It takes the stress off of their painful joints while allowing them to move and build strength around it and in other areas.
Patients with arthritis often can’t do the same types of exercises on land as they can in a pool because the stress of their body weight with gravity is too painful.
According to Reed, patients in an aquatic therapy program are much more likely to complete a prescribed exercise and therapy program because they’re not feeling that strain.
The temperature of the water also makes a difference.
“What sets aquatic therapy apart from the typical recreation center aquatic aerobics, is that the pool is heated, and it’s very, very comfortable to get into a heated pool,” Reed said.
Therapeutic pools, including those at Tidewater Physical Therapy clinics, are generally large enough for multiple patients to work out at one time, but small enough to be able to control the temperature. A therapeutic pool is set several degrees higher—usually around 92 degrees—than most swimming pools, but cooler than a hot tub, which is generally set between 100 and 104 degrees
The comfortable, warm temperature often decreases patients guarding themselves against pain, allowing them to more aptly participate in the prescribed therapeutic exercises.
A common misconception of arthritis is that it’s only older adults who suffer from it.
But Reed says this isn’t always the case, having recently treated a high school athlete who dealt with widespread pain in multiple joints due to arthritis.
“His goal was to make the varsity football team, so we got him in the pool and in a good stability program, and he ended up making the team,” Reed said.
Water therapy is being used to treat not only arthritic patients, but also athletes, those with total joint replacements, children with cerebral palsy, autism, and Down syndrome, and adults with, among other ailments, joint pain, stiffness, muscle spasms, back pain, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, lymphedema (and) systemic lupus.
Many of Tidewater Physical Therapy’s clinicians hold Direct Access Certifications, meaning patients can make physical therapy appointments without a referral from their physician. For more information about aquatic therapy, find a clinic near you and make your own appointment.