Hydrotherapy is therapeutic exercise in warm water. The warmth of the water helps to relax muscles and increase range of movement. The buoyancy of the water supports some of the body weight, taking strain off the main weight-bearing joints, so it's especially helpful for people with foot, ankle, knee and hip pain. The more of the body that is submerged, the more weight is taken off the joints. Movement against the resistance of the water and small equipment such as floats and paddles can also be used to help with body support or strengthening.
Group fitness classes in the water (for example Aquarobics and deep water running classes) can be good for general fitness, but can sometimes aggravate lower back pain. This may occur if you don't know how to stabalise the lower back during exercise, particularly if you have a ‘sway back’ or increased lumbar lordosis. Individual work with a hydrotherapy instructor may help. Clinical Pilates with a Physiotherapist can also teach you how to stabalise the pelvis and lower back so that other forms or exercise, such as hydrotherapy, walking or cycling are safer and more effective.
Hydrotherapy alone may not be enough if you also suffer from osteoporosis. Land-based exercises such as a supervised weights programme with an Exercise Physiologist, or Clinical Pilates with a Physiotherapist could be a better approach, supplemented with regular walking for cardio-vasular health.
Individual supervised hydrotherapy programmes are safer for people who have a significant pain or movement problem, especially to begin with. Australian Physiotherapy training includes training in hydrotherapy and some Physiotherapists specialise in this area. You can find them on the Australian Physiotherapy Association website under ‘Find a Physio - Aquatic’. My experience in this area is that I have run both group and individual hydrotherapy sessions in the past (at St John of God hospital in Bunbury).
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