Hydrotherapy & Arthritis
When it comes to living with arthritis the key is finding out what works best for you.
Alongside traditional medication and exercise, some people choose alternative methods to manage joint pain. One of the things you may want to try is hydrotherapy. So, what is hydrotherapy and can it really help with arthritis and joint pain? We spoke to Dr Deborah Lee from Dr Fox Online Pharmacy to find out more.
What is hydrotherapy?
“Hydrotherapy is the use of warm water to treat medical conditions. The water temperature is usually between 33–36°C, which is warmer than swimming pools, (typically kept at 26–28°C),” says Dr Deborah Lee.
While in the water, a trained physiotherapist will lead you through slow, controlled and relaxing aqua based exercises. These exercises can be adjusted to focus on mobility or strength, depending on your individual symptoms. Unlike spa treatment, mineral water is not used in hydrotherapy.
“You can engage in hydrotherapy even if you can’t swim. Usually, the water is not very deep, so you can stand all the time with your feet on the bottom. There should always be two therapists in the pool at any one time for safety reasons. There should be a rail around the pool to hold on to, and a hoist, if needed, to help you in and out of the water.” says Dr Lee.
Referrals for hydrotherapy can be done through the NHS, which will require an initial assessment. You will usually be given six, 30 minute sessions if you decide to go ahead with the treatment. You will often share the pool with other people (although exercises can be tailored for each person) and you may be offered group sessions for people with similar conditions.
“Hydrotherapy can be used to treat many different medical conditions. These include all forms of arthritis – such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid, and psoriatic arthritis, and other rheumatological conditions such as multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, tendonitis, scoliosis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and bursitis. It is also used for patients with spinal injuries and conditions.” says Dr Lee.
Is it similar to massage therapy or other types of therapy?
“Hydrotherapy differs from massage therapy because during a massage, the therapist rubs, presses, kneads, or manipulates a part of the body. In hydrotherapy, however, you are doing all the work yourself. Apart from expert guidance, the therapist is there to provide support, to encourage you, and to keep you safe. You are likely to feel physically tired after a hydrotherapy session, although many people also feel relaxed,” says Dr Lee.
What are the benefits of hydrotherapy?
The warmth of the water can allow the muscles to relax and ease pain, which can help you exercise for longer. The water also supports your weight, which relieves pressure on the joints and can help increase mobility.
“Exercises are performed in which you push against the force of the water. Resistance exercises like this help build muscle strength. You need to start slowly and gradually build up your muscle strength. After exercising in warm water, your joints often feel less stiff,” says Dr Lee.
Hydrotherapy can also be very relaxing, which can help relieve stress and improve sleep. “Hydrotherapy is associated with increased feelings of positivity and elevates mood,” adds Dr Lee.
Can hydrotherapy help with arthritis?
“A recent 2017 trial studied the effects of hydrotherapy compared to education only, on pain, overall function, and muscle function, in women aged 65 and over, with osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee. The trial was thought to be the first of its kind, in that it only concentrated on OA of the knee.”
“At the end of the study, the hydrotherapy group showed significantly less pain and higher levels of knee function as compared to the other group. Muscle strength in knee flexion and extension, and muscle power on knee flexion, were all statistically significantly improved in the hydrotherapy group, as was knee extensor resistance,” says Dr Lee.
Exercise is really important for people who have arthritis, as it can help strengthen the muscles around the joints and improve mobility. Some people may find it easier to exercise in water rather than on land, as the water can take some of the strain away whilst also adding additional strength training.
“In one 2014 focus group study, 15 people suffering from OA of the hip or knee were interviewed to find out more about their views and experiences of hydrotherapy. Most of the participants found land-based exercise too painful, and hence appreciated the hydrotherapy option, as a form of exercise. Some commented that they had tried to do the same exercises in a swimming pool but had not got the same degree of pain relief, presumably due to the cold temperature of the swimming pool water. Overall, this study showed that hydrotherapy has physical and psychological benefits for patients suffering from OA,” says Dr Lee.
If you are interested in trying hydrotherapy, talk to your GP who can refer you. You may also be able to refer yourself in some areas, so take a look at what is available in your region.
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