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Aquatic Therapy for Spinal Cord Injury Recovery

aquatic therapy for spinal cord injury

Aquatic therapy for spinal cord injury is a type of physical therapy that takes place in a swimming pool.

The purpose of aquatic therapy is not to teach spinal cord injury patients how to swim, but rather to teach them how to control their movements by improving their:

  • balance
  • flexibility
  • strength
  • endurance
  • heart health
  • gait

Going to the pool sounds way more fun than going to the gym, so many spinal cord injury patients are more willing to try aquatic therapy.

This article will explain how aquatic therapy might be able to help get you back on your feet after spinal cord injury.

Benefits of Aquatic Therapy for Spinal Cord Injury

Water has 3 properties that make it ideal for recovery after spinal cord injury.

1. Buoyancy

Buoyancy is what keeps you afloat and makes you feel lighter.

It helps take the pressure off your joints so that you can focus on the movements. The deeper your body is submerged, the lighter you feel.

For example, if you’re in a pool with the water up to your neck, there’s much less pressure than if the water were up to your hips.

So as you develop more strength and balance, transitioning into shallower waters will get your joints accustomed to withstanding more pressure.

Buoyancy will also help you stay balanced, and even if you do fall, the viscosity of the water will prevent you from falling so hard.

2. Viscosity

Viscosity is the resistance a fluid has. For example, honey has a higher viscosity than water.

Resistance is what makes it difficult to move quickly underwater.

It helps you develop strength because it forces you to push a little harder to make movements.

Temperature also affects viscosity. When the water is cold, there’s more viscosity and when it’s warm, there’s less.

3. Hydrostatic Pressure

Hydrostatic pressure is the force of water on your body from all directions.

The deeper you’re submerged, the greater the hydrostatic pressure.

It increases blood flow to your muscles and compresses your body to help relieve pain.

Techniques of Aquatic Therapy for Spinal Cord Injury

pool therapy for sci patients

There are lots of different techniques used in aquatic therapy for spinal cord injury.

Some focus more on balance, while others focus more on speed or strength.

Aquatic therapy is always administered by a physical therapist, so they will suggest what technique(s) will be most beneficial for your specific injury.

The 6 techniques used in aquatic therapy are:

  1. Bad Ragaz Ring Method: This method involves having patients float on their back while wearing floating rings around their neck, arms, torso, and ankles to perform exercises.
  2. Water Specific Therapy/ Halliwick: This method focuses on the development of balance, posture control, and promoting movement. It emphasizes that it’s okay to lose balance as long as you try to get up again.
  3. Watsu: This is a passive form of aquatic therapy, meaning that the patient does not have to exert any effort and the physical therapist will move the patient’s body for them in warm water by cradling, stretching, and massage.
  4. Aqua Jogging: This technique has patients wear floatation vests to stay upright while jogging/ walking underwater. The reduced impact on the joints helps spinal cord injury patients safely focus on the mechanics of their gait.
  5. Burdenko Method: This method focuses on developing balance, coordination, flexibility, endurance, speed, and strength by using specialized equipment like floatation vests, water barbells, resistance bands, and boards.
  6. Ai Chi: Ai Chi focuses on deep breathing and balance through slow, controlled movements underwater. It’s a relaxation technique that promotes fluid movements and helps reduce stiffness in connective tissues.

Transitioning Onto Land

benefits of aquatic therapy for spinal cord injury recovery

The whole point of aquatic therapy for spinal cord injury is to ease the transition back to land.

By utilizing the properties of water, SCI patients can work on improving motor control, balance, and flexibility with less stress on their joints.

Keep in mind that although you may be able to walk in water, you still may not be able to on land.

Regardless, it’s definitely a good starting point and will help you develop the skills necessary for walking.

Good luck!

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