Aquatic Physical Therapy

by Howard Gerber on April 11, 2011

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The American Physical Therapy Association added a new category of proficiency for physical therapist assistants in March 2011. Aquatic physical therapy brings the recognition categories to seven. This new development has brought more attention to this subsection of physical therapy that has been underrepresented in the media.

Aquatic physical therapy offers an environment that puts less stress on the bodies of patients by reducing the effects of gravity. This allows stress to be reduced on muscles and joints while still providing resistance to promote muscle tone, flexibility, and healing. Weights or flotation devices can be used to increase resistance as a patient’s ability increases.

What can aquatic physical therapy help?

  • Balance
  • Circulation
  • Coordination
  • Endurance
  • Flexibility
  • Muscle tone
  • Range of motion
  • Reduce swelling
  • Relaxation
  • Strength

What conditions can aquatic physical therapy treat?

  • Arthritis
  • Back pain
  • Chronic pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Joint replacement
  • Neck pain
  • Neurological disorders
  • Sports injuries
  • Sensory disorders

With the median age of the population becoming older, it is more likely that future patients seeking physical therapy will be more advanced in age than in the past. Older patients are often able to persist in their therapy longer in an aquatic environment. Because of this, it may become increasingly beneficial for physical therapists, as well as physical therapy assistants, to become proficient and certified in this physical therapy specialty.

However, it will be necessary to educate patients on the differences between an aquatic exercise program they may be able to take at their local community center and physical therapy sessions. Patients may not be aware that the physical therapy is markedly different from an exercise program. If they are aware of aquatic exercise groups, they may still be unaware that their physical restrictions can be specifically targeted in an aquatic physical therapy session.

Further, it may be necessary to work closely with doctors and insurance companies to establish the difference, as some communities have had less exposure to aquatic physical therapy and some insurance providers may be inclined to group the therapy with an exercise class rather than a medical necessity.

Do you see your physical therapy patients in an aquatic environment? Do you think this option would be a good fit for your practice or is the cost associated with maintaining the environment cost prohibitive for the number of patients you would see there?

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