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Is Aquatic Therapy Right for You?

Posted on 09/30/21 by Michael in Peter B. Lewis Aquatic Center

Aquatic therapy offers many unique benefits for patients seeking physical therapy treatment and may be helpful for patients across a variety of conditions. But how do you know if you may benefit from this treatment? This post will highlight some of the most common conditions treated with aquatic therapy at our clinic, as well as some instances where aquatic therapy may not be the right option.

Five conditions regularly treated with aquatic therapy at the Peter B. Lewis Aquatic & Therapy Center:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Low back pain
  • Chronic pain
  • Balance disorders
  • Neurological conditions


Osteoarthritis is a degenerative process in the joint that causes changes to the bone and cartilage which can lead to pain, stiffness and limited mobility. The joint pain and stiffness caused from osteoarthritis can make weightbearing exercises painful and difficult to complete. Using the buoyancy effect of water, aquatic therapy helps to reduce weightbearing and joint pain allowing for improved tolerance to exercise and functional movements. This increased tolerance to activity allows patients to more easily improve their strength and flexibility which can lead to improvements in their symptoms. The American College of Rheumatology has also consistently recommended aquatic therapy as a low impact and non-pharmacological intervention option for both hip and knee osteoarthritis in their clinical practice guidelines.

Is Aquatic Therapy Right for You?

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Low Back Pain

Low back pain is often referred to as the “common cold of the musculoskeletal system”. The World Health Organization reports that 60-70% of individuals in industrial countries will experience low back pain at some point in their lives. Even though low back pain is common, that doesn’t mean it can’t be painful and debilitating. Aquatic therapy offers several benefits for patients with low back pain including reducing pain levels, muscle spasms, and loading on the spine. One unique benefit for low back pain is using flotation devices in deeper water to create a light and comfortable traction effect on the spine, which can help to reduce muscle, joint and nerve pain by providing a gentle stretch.

Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is an ongoing pain that has lasted for more than three months. Persistent pain causes changes to occur in the nervous system that can lead to an increased amount of pain. This can make movement painful, which often leads patients to avoid exercise and activity altogether. This avoidance of activity contributes to deconditioning, which can prolong the pain experience. When treating persistent pain, therapy interventions aim to address these nervous system changes while helping patients to increase their activity levels. Using the pool can be a helpful part of this treatment as it helps to facilitate an increased level of activity in a reduced pain or pain-free environment, helping to disrupt this persistent pain cycle.

Is Aquatic Therapy Right for You?

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Balance Disorders

There are four systems that give one the ability to maintain balance: the musculoskeletal system, vestibular system, vision and proprioception or the body’s sense of positioning. If any one of these systems become impaired, it can affect your balance and increase your risk of falling. Water can be a great place to work on balance because the viscosity of water is more than 700 times that of air, which allows for increased reaction time while performing exercises. This unique benefit allows patient’s to safely work on balance exercises and simulate functional movements including walking with less assistance and risk of falling.

Neurological Conditions

When there is an injury to the nervous system, it can sometimes result in spasticity, which is a velocity dependent resistance to passive movement in the muscles. The warm water used during aquatic therapy can help to ease this spasticity and combining this thermal effect with passive stretching and active motion can help to improve mobility. Aquatic therapy can also help neurological patients improve strength, control, balance, and walking.


There are some situations where aquatic therapy may be contraindicated and your physical therapist can help determine if any medical conditions would prevent you from using the pool. The appropriateness of aquatic therapy is decided on a case to case basis but some of the reasons that aquatic therapy may be contraindicated include:

  • Uncontrolled seizures
  • Open wounds
  • Healing incision after surgery
  • Hydrophobia
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) or respiratory issues
  • Incontinence
  • Chemical allergies to chlorine
  • Urinary Tract Infection
  • Tracheotomy
  • Hepatitis A

Is Aquatic Therapy Right for You?

Peter B. Lewis Aquatic & Therapy Center's Heated Therapy Pool

Aquatic therapy offers many benefits to patients across a variety of conditions and may be a helpful treatment option for those seeking therapy. Consulting with a physical therapist is the best way to determine if this treatment technique is right for you. For more information about aquatic therapy, visit our website or contact Michael Groesch.

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