Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Aquatic Therapy: Making Waves in Therapeutic Recreation

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Aquatic Therapy: Making Waves in Therapeutic Recreation

Article excerpt

Therapeutic recreation specialists use a battery of techniques to incorporate movement with healing and improved fitness for their patients. Aquatic therapy, the use of water to improve physiological and psychological functioning, is often a valuable and enjoyable technique used by therapeutic recreation specialists. Improvements associated with aquatic therapy have been observed for many people with disabilities including individuals with multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis, spinal cord injury, arthritis, orthopedic impairments, cerebral palsy, acquired brain injury, ALS, development disability, and autism.

Through activity in the water, patients have shown physiological benefits, including improved circulation, mobility, strength, coordination, range of motion, pulmonary function, perceptual/spatial awareness, muscular and cardiovascular endurance, relaxation, and decreased pain and bone loss. Furthermore, participants experience psychological benefits such as improved mood, enhanced self esteem and body image, and decreased anxiety and depression. In addition to physiological and psychological benefits, aquatic therapy may promote the development of swimming or water activity as a lifetime leisure skill which, subsequently, can contribute to individuals' health and happiness.

Aquatic Therapy Methods

Aquatic therapy draws from a broad spectrum of activities and movements, many of which are land-based, but become less rigorous when performed in the water. Various aquatic therapy techniques include: (a) Watsu which applies the movements of Zen Schiatsu to decrease muscle tension, promote self awareness, relaxation and emotional release; (b) stabilization techniques for improving balance, coordination, strength and circulation to joints using the freedom of movement possible in the water; (c) Bad Ragaz which uses the water to provide proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation patterns rather than using a therapist to provide resistance; and (d) deep or shallow water strength or endurance exercises. Each of these--as well as other methods--require proper training for proper and safe utilization.

The use of swimming as a therapeutic medium is a technical process that requires the combined skills of teaching swimming and water safety, as well as understanding the hydrodynamics of the water and implications and contraindications associated with use of water for therapy. For example the Halliwick Method of instruction applies the principles of hydrodynamics and body mechanics to advance a participant through four phases of skill development: mental adjustment, rotational control, controlling movement and balancing in the water, and independent movement in the water.

In another example, a professional using the sequential swim method of instruction will apply water properties to specific characteristics of the client's disabilities to enhance physiological and psycho-social functioning, as well as independent water activity. No matter which method is used to achieve independence, each incorporates all muscle groups, enhances proprioceptive skills, and provides neurodevelopmental treatment (which facilitates normal patterns of movement and posture). The potential of swimming to be adopted as a life-long leisure and fitness activity makes it extremely appealing for therapeutic recreation specialists.

Water as a Therapeutic Environment

The combination of water's physical properties and the prescribed activity creates a unique environment for many physiological benefits. There are many physical laws of the water that therapists should apply in aquatic therapy. Of them, buoyancy and hydrostatic pressure, are the most important. Archimedes' principle states that when a body is wholly or partially immersed in a fluid at rest, it is acted upon by a buoyant or lift force, equal to the weight of the displaced fluid. It is this buoyancy, applied to activity in the water, that is of such value in physical treatment. …

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