What is Hydrotherapy?
by Rikke Damkjær Moen - Physiotherapist and Medical Manager on March 2
Hydrotherapy can help children and adults who are liable to lose strength and muscle bulk because of their inability to move independently. Thanks to the weightlessness of the water, they are able to stand upright and walk by themselves during therapy sessions. This provides freedom of movement and a wide range of health benefits. Here´s how and why.
What does it entail?
Easily put, hydrotherapy is the use of water in the treatment of different conditions, including cerebral palsy (CP), arthritis and rheumatic conditions. The use of water for therapy goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks, and it forms an integral part of many traditional medicine systems.
So, how does it differ from regular swimming?
First of all, hydrotherapy is performed in either hot or cold water, making use of the nerves´s ability to carry what is felt by the skin deeper into the body (source). The temperature in the warm-water pool is normally between 33 and 36 ºC, a lot warmer than a typical swimming pool. Hot water relaxes muscles and is used to treat arthritis, rheumatism, poor blood circulation and sore muscles. Cold water stimulates and invigorates the body´s internal activity.
Secondly, it involves special exercises that are adjusted to each individual depending on the symptoms. The exercises consist of slow, controlled movements, and include relaxing exercises, gentle stretching, strengthening exercises against the resistance of the water, flotation, and movement exercises.
Hydrotherapy treatments are often available within a hospital's physiotherapy department, where a physiotherapist with specialist training presents the exercises. Training and support gives the assurance that every individual´s needs are met.
What are the benefits?
Not only is hydrotherapy relaxing, it can also be fun, especially for children. More importantly, it helps build the strength, movement, and balance of weak muscle groups. This improves both fitness and general mobility.
Further, it improves posture, reduces muscle tension and relieves pain. The weightlessness a person feels in the water does not only relieve tension in the limbs, it also supports aching muscles and ease the movement. In many ways, hydrotherapy acts as a natural pain reliever, because it stimulates the release of endorphins, which in turn help to alleviate tension and control pain (source).
The slow movements and relaxing exercises reduce stress, thus helping to reduce high blood pressure, which can be caused by stress. According to the Cerebral Palsy Alliance, they also reduce muscle spasm, which allows for even greater relaxation (source).
Other benefits include improved coordination and balance, increased metabolic rate and digestion activity, as well as decreased swelling-pain.
Who can benefit from it?
There are different types of hydrotherapy, meaning that many people with different conditions can benefit from it. Some of the types are bath and showers, neutral baths and steam inhalation.
Motion based hydrotherapy is mainly used for muscle and joint injuries, and can be beneficial to both children and adults with CP, who can experience difficulty in controlling their movements due to stiffness, unsteadiness and unwanted involuntary movement. It can also be useful for people with other neurological conditions, including muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinsons disease (source).
Children who are liable to lose strength, muscle bulk and flexibility because of their inability to move independently, benefit from hydrotherapy, because they are supported in the water and are therefore able to move their limbs. Spontaneous movement in water is more attainable than movement on land.
Water exercises can be appealing to children with CP because of the buoyancy of the water, which reduces the joint loading and decreases the negative influences of poor postural control and poor balance. The use of warm water in a relaxing environment has the therapeutic effect of alleviating the discomfort of physical impairment while maintaining a wider range of motion.
There is little doubt that the healing properties of hydrotherapy have the ability to put a smile on the face of a happy, relaxed child that manages to reach new milestones. For many children and adults, hydrotherapy is a great way to lead a more active and healthy life.