Aquatic Therapy

What is Aquatic Therapy?

Aquatic Therapy, Aquatics rehabilitation, or pool therapy, is a physical or occupational therapy (PT or OT) service that is provided in water instead of on land. There are various reasons why someone may need pool therapy, often the person has poor tolerance to gravity resisted activities (weight bearing exercises), poor balance, or postural deficits.

Exercises performed in water may help unload the weight of the body allowing for someone to improve their tolerance to movement, activities, and even to help with their balance and posture. This is safe environment with a lower risk than land to advance endurance, strength and balance.

There are many different musculoskeletal and neurological conditions that may benefit from pool therapy, but here are a few common conditions:

  • Arthritis
  • Back pain
  • Balance disorders (e.g. Parkinson’s)
  • Chronic pain
  • Orthopedic conditions (e.g. stiff knee, hip, shoulder, etc.)
  • Post-surgical cases (e.g. total knee, back surgery, etc.)

Pool therapy is not recommended for those who may suffer from:

  • Chlorine allergies
  • Fear of water
  • Incontinence
  • Open wounds
  • Seizures

What to expect

On the first visit, you will receive an evaluation from your PT or OT on land. It is your therapist’s job to understand your current physical abilities, restrictions, as well as your functional goals. He or she will determine if pool therapy is right for you. Your therapist will prepare you for the expectations of pool therapy prior to your first visit in the pool.

Commonly, your second visit will be in the pool. Your PT or OT will clarify the expectations and plan for your time in the pool. He or she will guide you through various exercises and will ensure your safety is the primary goal.

The number of visits in the pool prior to returning to land therapy varies depending on the complexity of your condition. Your PT or OT will coordinate with you on the right timing to return to land therapy where exercises will advance to weight bearing tolerance.

Is Aquatic Therapy Right for You?

Aquatic rehabilitation is not right for everyone. Your PT or OT will determine during your visit if this is the best program for you. They will assess your strength, movements, pain tolerances, and balance. Based on their findings, your PT or OT will collaborate with you to determine the best plan for reaching your functional goals.

Most states have direct access to a physical therapist, meaning you can go directly to a physical therapist without a physician order. To determine if your state has direct access, please visit the American Physical Therapy Association’s website Physical Therapy Direct Access By State.

Occupational therapists also have direct access; however, it is determined by local state statutes. Please verify with your insurance company if you can be treated by an OT without a physician order.

Not all PTs or OTs perform the pool therapy. To find a qualified PT or OT near you, please click on the following link (FOTO PT database link). This link will help you find a PT or OT in your area that performs the pool therapy.

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