Aquatic therapy is putting the fun back into fully functioning – an article in Good Health Magazine.

Liz Villalta

We were recently interviewed about our research in an article on why exercising in water is the low-impact workout you'll want to try for sore muscles and joints. Sophia Auld writes “Exercise is a key management strategy, but it can be hard to do when it hurts. Exercising in water can be a great place to start, because the buoyancy, warmth and compressive forces make it more comfortable.”

Sophia covered our research findings that were published in academic journal The Knee, confirmed that pain ratings during squats were significantly lower in water compared to on land. We also showed that faster workouts in water produced higher relative loads compared to slow workouts, but with minimal pain. 

The Managing Director of Hydro Functional Fitness, Dr Sophie Heywood was quoted in the article explaining that swimming and aqua-fitness often fall under the category of cardiovascular conditioning. However, people need to consider other types of aquatic exercise for improving strength, balance and control.

"Rather than people going to the pool and thinking they're ticking lots of boxes, they might be ticking only one box," Sophie says.

Using functional exercises in the pool

The article went on to quote Hydro Functional Fitness MD Sophie "We need to think about how we can use functional exercise in the pool to improve confidence with movement, control or power. They're all different things."

Sophie adds that the goal is always to transfer those improvements to land-based activity.

However, "water provides a most amazing opportunity for someone who's had a poor success with exercise on land. If they found it painful or felt disheartened by it, the pool is a great way to start exercise and build a sense that they can load [their joints] a bit more and gain some confidence."

"Some people start off with a short period of aquatic exercise then find they have the confidence to transition to a land-based exercise programme, such as one performed at home."

How water exercise helps people with arthritis

Sophie Heywood says that many people with arthritis have been given an over-simplified, and often scary, explanation that their pain comes from cartilage damage causing joints to become "bone-on-bone".

However, "pain is very complex," she says. "It's not coming predominantly just from cartilage.

"It's easy to understand the theory that pain is complicated and exercise is the right thing to do, but it's quite hard to put into practice and make that happen consistently enough to see gains."

Aquatic exercises designed by a physiotherapist can help most conditions that result in pain, stiffness, weakness, deconditioning or low fitness, balance problems or difficulties moving, for example walking or going up stairs.

The most important improvement connected to pool exercise

In our view, this article covered the most useful part of aquatic exercise. For people who have been told that movement is dangerous, or who have a subconscious sense that pain with movement is dangerous, the pool provides a bridge to a more positive connection with exercise.

For the full  Good Health magazine article you can see an online version republished in NZ here