Written by:
Johan Lambeck Bsc., IATF Senior Lecturer
Edited by:

drs. Ing. Eric Legdeur Msc, Owner-Manager EWAC BV

Hydrotherapy is a specialised mode of physiotherapy, which involves the use of water as a medium to provide support, resistance and other effects that can otherwise not be utilised outside the water. It can be used to treat a very wide spectrum of conditions over a wide range of patient groups. Examples are arthritis and cardio-pulmonary rehabilitation for adult patients, but also soothing and relation activities for children with Celebral Palsy (CP).

Even though hydrotherapy resembles swimming, there is a difference where the individual is required to undertake exercises in the warm water. The temperature is usually between 28 and 32ºC. This is a lot higher than in a normal swimming pool. The treatment usually takes place in a hospital’s physiotherapy department, by specially trained physiotherapist. Also other movement specialists, who have received training for working in water can administer the exercises.

What is the difference between Hydrotherapy and Aquatic Therapy?

Hydrotherapy includes all possible therapy modes that involve the use of water. This can range from completely passive floating in water, therapist induced exercises up to active exercises based on therapist instruction. Aquatic therapy does not include passive treatment of individuals in water, but includes active exercises in water based on instructions from a therapist. Therefore it can be said that Aquatic therapy is active, water based therapy. Read more about Aquatic Therapy vs Hydrotherapy.

Why is hydrotherapy good for you?

Hydrotherapy offers a lot of advantages over alternative therapies because it offers:

  • an opportunity for an earlier start in a (muscular) re‑education program after injury compared to land based therapies
  • an increased amount of degrees of freedom, and therefore in water exercises possible that are not possible on land
  • treatment of impairments like pain, decreased range of motion, decrea­sed strength and stiffness
  • increasing the upper body strength, treating posture stability problems of upper body stiffness or weakness and promoting gait during walking
  • improved cardio‑vascular and respiratory functi­ons
  • a positive effect on overall, as well as local metabolism. This reduces arousal, pain and stiffness
  • the benefit of therapeutic, prophylactic and cosmetic effects
  • easy easily adaptation to patient‑specific needs and can simply be applied in a progressive way, from a non-weight-bearing to a full-weight-bearing program
  • the possibility to handle even the very heavy patients with great ease
  • the possibility to engage the patient in a positive way, promoting their compliance, by introducing playful activities
  • a warm, safe and low impact exercise environment
  • the possibility for the (physio-)therapist to observe the total body and check e.g. body alignment

What are the advantages of exercising in warm water?

  • Ligaments and muscles become more flexible, increasing the range of motion of joints
  • Joint loading is decreased as a result of buoyancy
  • Movement speeds are restricted as a result of higher density and viscosity of the water
  • Pain sensation is reduced, for reasons not yet entirely understood
  • Blood is moved from the extremities to the core, increasing central blood volume, increasing the efficiency of the heart
Methods in hydrotherapy

Hydrotherapy, or Aquatic Physical Therapy is primarily focused on exercise in water but also includes hands-on techniques. It can include some of the methods mentioned underneath:

  • Halliwick
  • Bad Ragaz Ring Method
  • Deep Water Running (DWR)
  • Watsu
  • Ai Chi

Read more about methods in hydrotherapy and aquatic therapy

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