What is hydrotherapy?


What is hydrotherapy?

Hydrotherapy, sometimes known as aquatic therapy, is a form of physiotherapy that uses water to warm the body and gently increase resistance. It is commonly prescribed by doctors for the treatment of a wide variety of conditions, including:

  • Arthritis
  • Back pain
  • Stress and Anxiety
  • Poor circulation
  • Muscle pain and inflammation
  • Headaches
  • Hip and joint replacement rehabilitation
  • Strokes and brain injuries

During a hydrotherapy session you’re not swimming, but rather performing a specific series of exercises. The pool is also heated to a warm 33-36°c in order to relax and soothe your muscles.

Other complementary treatments that can be used alongside hydrotherapy to alleviate the symptoms of arthritis may include massage, chiropractic adjustments, gentle exercise and adding fish oil to your diet.

The benefits of hydrotherapy

Unlike other forms of physiotherapy, hydrotherapy uses the water as a supportive tool to reduce stress on your muscles and joints during treatment. Performing exercises in warm water may:

  • Relax your muscles, allowing you to extend your range of motion.
  • Ease pain and reduce inflammation.
  • Support your weight, taking pressure off your joints.
  • Provide resistance in order to rebuild muscle strength.

These benefits may make you feel as though you’re able to do more exercise than usual, so it’s important to make sure that you’re not overdoing it and rest properly between sessions. Start slowly and gradually build up your strength and fitness over time. If you’re feeling slight muscle soreness from overuse, you could try a Relaxing Massage to help you recover.

What happens in a hydrotherapy session?

Hydrotherapy can be prescribed on the NHS, and you’ll typically have your treatment within a hospital’s physiotherapy department. You’ll normally wear a swimming costume, sometimes accompanied by special shoes or other accessories, and will probably share the pool with other people during your sessions. However, the exercises will be tailored to your exact needs.

A course of hydrotherapy usually consists of between 5 and 10 sessions, lasting around 30 minutes each.

man and a woman in a swimming pool

Hydrotherapy vs spa therapy

Hydrotherapy can also sometimes be used to describe a series of jets and sprays in a beauty spa. While this may also have a relaxing effect, it’s unlikely to have the same impact as it’s medical counterpart.

There are various types of water-based holistic therapies available, including thalassotherapy – which uses seawater – and spa therapy, which relates to the mineral content of the water. In the case of these treatments, the water is considered to have intrinsic qualities that can positively impact your skin, hair and overall health. In hydrotherapy the important factor is not the water itself, but the exercises that you perform in it.

Hydrotherapy exercises to try

If you feel you would benefit from hydrotherapy you should contact your doctor, but you can also try a few of these simple exercises in any swimming pool:

  • Jogging: with the water level above your waist, walk on the spot while maintaining your balance. Gradually increase your speed.
  • Arm raises: increase your depth so the water is just under your chin. With wide, flat palms move your straight arms up to shoulder height, feeling the resistance of the water. Return them to your side and repeat.
  • Plank: Hold a noodle out in front of you with straight arms. Keeping your arms straight, push it under water while leaning forwards, maintaining a line with the rest of your body. Try to hold your balance for 30 seconds at a time.

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