Water Works: Aquatic Therapy & OT

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

By Jasmin Cameron

Would you or someone you know with an injury like to relax? Reduce stress? Improve balance and coordination? Build muscle strength and endurance? Improve your posture, alignment, walking, and aerobic capacity?  And would you like to transfer this strength to your everyday function, through occupational therapy?

Aquatic therapy – immersion in warm water with the guidance of a trained expert, like me, can be soothing for fatigued, aching joints and muscles.

Water has many amazing properties:

  • It can literally hold you. It pushes against you from all sides, helping with circulation, body awareness and providing support and stability. People with balance and coordination problems don’t need to be afraid of falling.
  • Its resistance can help with muscle strengthening and rehabilitation.
  • Its buoyancy reduces the impact of gravity on injury or aching joints and muscles.
  • Lung capacity can improve since the respiratory muscles have to work harder in the water. Improved lung capacity  lingers long after you’ve left the water.

Aquatic Therapy and Rehab

I provide aquatic therapy as part of my specialized occupational therapy intervention for some of my clients; it’s a form of rehabilitation that takes place in the water with support from a trained instructor. I work with my clients, and the wonderful assistance of the water, to help my them reach their rehab goals.

I love working with people in the water, simply because water works! It’s a fun, safe, and relaxing environment that allows people to do what they can’t on land. It’s really quite amazing.

I started working in aquatic therapy in the early 1980s, directing a program for children and youth with physical disabilities. All of my life I have enjoyed  water and its benefits, and have taught swimming to people of all ages and abilities. I have enjoyed Masters Swimming since 2009.  

Who Can Benefit from Aquatic therapy?

Many people can enjoy the benefits of Aquatic Therapy: anyone who enjoys the benefits of relaxation; people recovering from accidents, people with pain, mental health, orthopedic, neuromuscular, and/or circulation problems and more. For example, water provides motor and sensory stimuli that can help people with neurological challenges from brain or spinal cord injuries. New neural pathways are formed with exposure to stimuli. I have worked with clients who use a wheelchair and I have seen these clients slip into the pool and swim independently. This week a young client with a spinal cord injury that impacts his ability to walk on land tried water jogging with me with success. It is inspiring.

In the water, people who do not walk are free to move on their own without assistance. 

Water works for other special populations, like older adults or anyone with impaired neuromuscular function, since developing stability through water exercises uses neuromuscular coordination and postural control strategies. It can help people improve balance and reduce their risk of falls. Water is also of benefit pre and postnatally, and pre and post surgery. Aquatic therapy can even benefit those who are not swimmers.

Note: extra care must be taken for those with altered sensation, wounds, or skin sensitivities.

Backed by Research

Don’t just take my word for it. Water has a known therapeutic value. Dr. Karen Pape, MD, Clinical Neuroscientist and Neonatologist, noted in her recent book: “I know of no other form of therapy that is better for all-around strengthening and improving cardiovascular fitness in children and adults with a neurologic problem.” (1)

There is a great article, “Aquatic Therapy: Scientific Foundations and Clinical Rehabilitation Applications,” that affirms my experience with aquatic therapy. Check it out if you want to learn more.

What Aquatic Therapy Treatment Looks like

I may start working with clients in a private pool that has Hydroworx technology, like HydrAthletics in Kingston. At these pools, the client has access to hydromassage, resistance jets, an underwater treadmill, and trained staff.

Once a client is comfortable, we could graduate to a community pool. There, trained lifeguards provide support, as needed, while I work with clients in the extra warm therapy poor or regular pool. It all depends on the client’s needs.

I especially enjoy being a part of the fabric of the community recreation centre. Here  people of all ages, shapes, sizes and abilities immerse themselves in the healing and revitalizing benefits of water. Water works!

To learn more about Jasmin. To make a referral, please click here.

  1. Pape, Karen. (2016). The Boy Who Could Run but Could Not Walk: Understanding Neuroplasticity in the Child’s Brain. Barlow Books, Toronto. pp. 223.