Aquatic rehab: Not just for the dogs
How cute is that? Little Jake over there is undergoing aquatic rehabilitation in an underwater treadmill after paralyzing his rear limbs in an unfortunate accident. One veterinarian’s initial prognosis was that Jake would not be able to walk again. But after physical therapy and the underwater treadmill, Jake is back on his feet and happier than ever.
Canines are not the only species that can benefit from aquatic therapy. Whether it is used to help people recover from acute injuries or to maintain health in the face of chronic disease, hydrotherapy is regarded as having “broad rehabilitative potential” that is relatively underused (Becker, 2009).
Water: An ideal medium for exercise.
Swimming is widely recommended by medical experts for its healthful benefits*. According to the American Red Cross, the buoyancy of water results in less stress on the joints, helping to reduce swelling and tissue damage. Warm water can increase circulation, decrease pain, and increase muscle relaxation and soft tissue flexibility.
Patients (and puppies) looking to strengthen muscles should exercise in pools with some turbulence.
Aquatic exercise: Benefits galore
- Lower risk of death In a 2009 Washington State University study of over 40,000 men, exercise swimmers had less than half the mortality risk of sedentary men, and exercise swimmers had half the mortality risk of exercise walkers and runners.
- Aids patients with COPD A 2009 study of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) found the swimming pool a “feasible and positive alternative venue for pulmonary rehabilitation”.
- Asthma Many studies have found swimming improves asthma symptoms; LaKind et al. cite Welsh et al. 1, who reviewed the relevant scientific literature. According to LaKind et al., Welsh et al. note that most studies find “positive effects of swim training on fitness as measured by improved aerobic efficiency, physical working performance, and recovery heart rates.”
- Heart healthy Aquatic exercise strengthens the heart muscle and improves oxygen delivery to the muscles.
- Reduces water and sodium retention Animal data collected in Brazil 2 indicate exercise in water might be prescriptive for patients with hypertension, obesity and/or mild renal disease as it reduces water and sodium retention.
- Hand eye coordination and balance According to a study done in Taiwan, swimming can improve hand eye coordination and balance in the elderly, which could lower a senior’s risk of a falling-related injury.
- Bone health Aquatic exercise can maintain or improve bone health in post-menopausal women.
- Better flexibility and range of motion According to the American Red Cross, when accompanied by good stretching habits, aquatic exercise can greatly improve flexibility and aid range of motion.
- Improved mood Swimming can improve the mental state of both men and women, the elderly and women with fibromyalgia, mothers, and parents of children with developmental disabilities.
Swimming may be the BEST and most enjoyable form of exercise, so give it a try!
*The American Red Cross recommends a health assessment from your health care provider before you begin an exercise program.
Ralph Morris, MD, MPH, is a Physician and Preventive Medicine and Public Health official living in Bemidji, MN.