Hydro/Aquatic therapy and its effects on the body

What is hydrotherapy?
Hydrotherapy also known as aquatic therapy, is the use of water to relieve discomfort and promote physical well-being. A number of therapeutic treatments and approaches draw upon the healing properties of water for pain relief, making use of the body’s reaction to hot and cold stimuli. On the whole, cold water is used to stimulate and invigorate, increasing the body’s internal activity, whereas warm water is used to calm and soothe, slowing it down. Alternating between hot and cold-water treatments can help to heal injuries, enhance various bodily functions and reduce any inflammation.

The science
Being in water causes and increase in hydrostatic pressure on the body. Hydrostatic pressure is the pressure that is exerted by a fluid at equilibrium at a given point within the fluid, due to the force of gravity. Hydrostatic pressure increases in proportion to depth measured from the surface because of the increasing weight of fluid exerting downward force from above.

Basically, the deeper you go in water, the stronger the hydrostatic pressure (more hydrostatic pressure at your feet then head if standing in water). Because of this pressure it can help with many things in the body, below are a handful of things it can help with.

5 benefits of hydrotherapy on the body

1. Helps swelling and acts as a compression device

Hydrostatic pressure can be used on anyone that is suffering from oedema or swelling, lymphedema.
We know that the deeper you go in water, the more pressure your body experiences. If you are submerged in 1 meter (3.3’) of water, the pressure is 1.4 psi or 72.4 mmHg. To put this in perspective, doctors generally give patients a TED stocking to help decrease swelling and edema following surgery. The amount of pressure supplied by a standard TED stocking is 20-30mmhg. When you compare the amount of pressure from a TED stocking with what you get from water, you can see that hydrostatic pressure applies greater compression.

2. Helps increase breathing capacity out of the water

When a person is submerged up to their neck in water, hydrostatic pressure applies constant resistance to the chest wall.  When we inhale (breathe in), our chest wall expands. When we exhale (breathe out), our chest wall compresses.  So, as we expand and compress our chest wall, hydrostatic pressure applies constant resistance during the entire movement. This pressure creates the following positive results:

  • It forces us to release more air than we usually would exhale.

It helps the chest wall work more efficiently when exercising out of the water.

3. Helps dull nerve endings to reduce pain

Hydrostatic pressure applies constant resistance to the body, which continually signals the nerve endings.  The nervous system responds by automatically dulling the reticular system, which is responsible for tactile sensory neurons (aka the feeling of touch).  As a result, this dulls muscle pain, making it easier to move, workout, and/or stretch.

Patient/Client application: Fibromyalgia, Amputees, Sciatica, chronic back pain with radicular systems, any neurological or musculoskeletal disorder that causes hypersensitivity.  Paediatric patients with ADHD, autism, and/or sensory overload.

4. Increases circulation, Reduces Lactic acid and Promotes detoxification

A big advantage of hydrostatic pressure is its ability to increase circulation and assist venous return to help deoxygenated blood cells (blood cells that no longer have oxygen) return to the heart and lungs to pick up more oxygen.  When oxygenated blood cells (blood cells that carry oxygen) return to the working muscles, they supply the muscles with oxygen and the muscles in turn work better.

When muscles perform strenuously, lactic acid or lactate is produced and is released into the surrounding muscle that is being activated.  Increasing circulation and blood flow helps clean and filter away the lactic acid from the working muscle, thus preventing lactate from creating an acidic environment.

During exercise, any healthy person can produce too much lactic acid.  For example, if a person is running as fast as they can for a short period of time, the lactic acid build up causes muscle pain, forcing them to stop.  This is defined as the lactate threshold and can occur with any type of workout.  However, the lactate threshold is trainable and can be changed with exercise.

Hydrostatic pressure helps take lactic acid out of the cells and deliver it more efficiently to the liver, thus reducing soreness from workouts.  In a nut shell, it helps move the blood back to the main organs by applying pressure to distal parts of the body (parts further away from the heart).  The improved circulation increases detoxification in the blood

Now take the same running scenario and this time have the person run on the pool floor or on an underwater treadmill. This same athlete or patient can work out harder and longer without experiencing early onset of fatigue due to lack of oxygen, toxification, acidity, or other blood changes that occur with exercise. There are a number of different ways to run in the pool and all are a great way to work out with less muscle pain and strain.