What are the best aquatic exercises for arthritis?

A summary of the research and info on the Kickstarter program

Aquatic exercise for arthritis

Sometimes aquatic exercise is a good way to ease back into exercise to build confidence and some early improvements in muscle performance. When pain limits the weight or resistance you feel happy to push against with strengthening exercises, the pool can be a great place to start.

When you have water up to your waist you are only stressing your legs out with about 50% of your body weight. When you have water up to the level of your chest, it’s only 30%. Therefore there is less and gentler resistance for example in a squat in water as your body weight is reduced by the magic (or physics) of buoyancy.

Some ideas to start with include
- join an aqua fitness class and take it easy or
- walk up and down for 10 to 15 minutes or
- try some slow, small squats and calf raises in deeper water

Some safety tips on pool exercise include warming up, be guided by your instructor or by the exercise program that’s been designed for you, if you feel light-headed, sick or dizzy at any stage, get out of the water and take care when moving in wet areas around the pool, including in change rooms, to avoid slipping and falls.

Aquatic exercise has been shown to be just as effective as land-based exercise for improving pain for people with arthritis.

The Hydro Functional Kickstarter water exercise programs are based on research that our team has led including a randomised controlled trial in aquatic exercise for hip and knee arthritis, reviewing the similarities and differences between leg movements in water and on land and the biomechanics of exercises for people with knee arthritis.

If you'd like to join our online 6-week aquatic physiotherapy Kickstarter Program, please let us know using the form below.

Exercise guidelines and tips

Frequently Asked Questions

What time are the sessions?

This is not a class. You do the program of exercises in the pool by yourself, guided by information from us.

You can attend the pool any time that works for you (sometimes you may need to book a time or check when are the best times to go).

It's a bonus if you have a friend or family member who may also want to go for a swim or already attends the gym so you can head to the centre with them. Otherwise it's a "Kickstarter" for you and your fitness, strength and balance so you may start out by yourself but then get into a routine and build confidence to join some other exercise groups after the program has finished. We'll help you with this.

Will I be able to get a rebate from my Private Health Insurance for the program?

If you have extras cover for Physiotherapy and if your Private Health Insurance includes teleheatlh appointments then it's likely you'll get something back. Call your Private Health Insurance to see if your cover includes a rebate for Physiotherapy telehealth sessions.

I'm not very confident with technology, will I still be able to follow the program?

Yes, absolutely. You mainly need to be able to access your emails as this is where we will send your video program. You also need a phone or tablet or computer that you can watch the videos on. Many people that would consider themselves not to be computer experts have found they have enjoyed the program. We are here to support you. We have ways of making the program less reliant on the technology if you're a bit more of a pen and paper person.

Can I do the program if I don’t have a phone or tablet to watch the program on poolside?

Yes, you can. You need to be able to watch your video program and technique tips on a computer and then we'll give you written instructions also (that you can take to the pool).

Can I do the program if I don’t have an email address?

No. You will need an email address for the program. You could ask a friend or family member to set one up for you.

Can I do the program if I’ve had a hip or knee joint replacement or waiting for one?

It depends on your individual situation.  In most circumstances, if you've recently had surgery it's best for you to follow a rehab program by a physio or exercise physiologist you've seen recently as they know exactly what is right for you. If you're more than 3 months after surgery and you'd like to join the program then we are happy to have you.

If you're on the waiting list for surgery then exercise to become a little stronger before the operation will be of benefit after the operation.  Aquatic exercise is a comfortable way to exercise prior to your surgery except in situations where you are in extreme discomfort.  

When does the program start?

Your program can start when it suits you.

Please send in your Expression of Interest as early as possible.

If you have any questions please email physio@hydrofunctional.com

Where can I find more information on arthritis, exercise or pain?

There are some great organisations producing some excellent material on arthritis, exercise and managing pain. Here are some of them

General information on osteoarthritis




Or give Musculoskeletal Australia a freecall and (weekdays 9am-5pm) and speak to one of their clinically trained nurses and

experienced volunteers for

- Information on arthritis

- Information on how to negotiate the complex health, disability and social services systems

- community resources in your area.

1800 263 265 or email helpline@msk.org.au.

Information on managing pain and symptoms

Managing your pain A-Z guide


Information on exercise with osteoarthritis



Information on recommended guidelines for physical activity to stay healthy

Australia's Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines


Living Stronger from COTA - exercise classes and online exercise videos



GLA:D AU exercise classes for hip and knee arthritis


Can exercise cause damage to my joints if I already have arthritis?

No. Exercise programs designed by Health Professionals have controlled load which starts lower and gradually gets higher. Provided trauma is avoided (uncontrolled twisting or anything extreme), moderate exercise does not lead to acceleration of osteoarthritis. Exercise actually really helps people with arthritis get stronger, get moving and have less pain. Aquatic exercise has the added benefit of less vertical weight bearing load on the joint but can still push you hard with strengthening and also cardiovascular conditioning for your general health. Contact us to find out more. You can read more about the benefits of exercise and physical activity from Arthritis Australia here.

Do I need to be able to swim?

Quite a few people enjoy exercise in water and cannot swim. The pools we want you to exercise in need a shallow end where most exercises are done standing up.  All the exercises are initially easier and then progressed to be more difficult as your confidence in water grows. You don't have to put your head under the water and you don't have to be able to swim.

Does aquatic exercise work?

Yes. High quality research in hip and knee osteoarthritis that our team has been involved in has shown aquatic exercise supervised and designed by a physiotherapist to be beneficial for pain, quality of life, walking and stair climbing. We have done more research recently to show how some exercises in the pool are less painful for people with knee arthritis.

There are no guarantees of success with any treatment program but aquatic exercise has a solid base of research, is a great environment to start in and all programs will be modified to suit you.