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Managing Pain with Water-Based Exercise

Posted On: 10-13-2017
Managing Pain with Water-Based Exercise
Living with pain often contributes to a less active lifestyle and avoidance of exercise. After all, who wants to do exercises likely to make their pain worse? While this is an understandable concern for patients dealing with chronic discomfort, not getting enough exercise actually weakens muscles and contributes to more pain. A happy medium worth exploring for patients with chronic pain is water-based exercise. All key muscle groups can still be targeted, but there's less pressure on bones and muscles.

When to Consider Water-Based Exercise

The first attempt at therapy for patients with chronic pain is land-based exercise. Every attempt is made to make such exercises as comfortable as possible. Still, some patients have difficulty with traditional PT exercises due to increased resistance and natural body weight. If this is the case, water therapy is sometimes recommended as an alternative to land-based exercise. It's an option that may benefit patients with the following sources or types of pain:

  • Lower back pain
  • Arthritis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Muscle strain
  • Neck pain
  • Diabetes and/or high blood pressure

Possible Benefits for Chronic Pain Sufferers

Water therapy allows patients to perform many of the same movements without as much resistance and discomfort. Water has a natural buoyancy that counteracts gravity and allows patients to have a greater range of movement without any added resistance from the body's natural weight. This is especially true for exercises such as leg lifts that involve heavier limbs that often present more challenges for patients doing the same exercises on land. Additional benefits often associated with water-based exercise include:

  • Gentle resistance that strengthen muscles
  • Hydrostatic pressure that may improve lung and heart functions
  • Improvements with circulation and blood flow
  • Better improvements with range of motion

Types of Water-Based Exercise

Water exercise can be as simple as standing or floating pool exercises. Patients with mobility issues can use flotation devices for added support and stability. When a stage of recovery is reached where greater resistance is needed, resistance devices can be added to hands and feet while exercises are performed in the water. Some patients also benefit from swimming as long as over-extending motions are minimized or avoided. Water-based exercises may also include:

  • Water push-ups
  • Wall stretches
  • Pool planks
  • Assisted or unaided pool walking

The warmth of the water of the heated pools often used for water therapy also soothes muscles and improves circulation. For chronic pain sufferers, these added therapeutic benefits may increase comfort and reduce inflammation around joints. As is the case with land-based physical therapy, water exercises are easily tailored to the specific needs and abilities of patients.

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