Aquatic Physical Therapy

March 03, 2015

The pools at Penn Highlands Healthcare Rehabilitation Centers at Penn Highlands Elk, Penn Highlands DuBois and Penn Highlands Brookville provide a place for easier physical therapy.
Shown with the pool at PH Elk is Gette Bardo, physical therapy assistant, left, reviewing a chart with Mark Hoffman, physical therapist and director of Mark J. Hoffman, physical therapist and director of Rehabilitation and Occupational Health.

When your body is aching, sometimes nothing feels better than a warm shower or soaking in a warm tub.

Now imagine that feeling as you do physical therapy. What a difference that would make!

And it’s possible to do through the pools at Penn Highlands Healthcare Rehabilitation Centers at Penn Highlands Elk, Penn Highlands DuBois and Penn Highlands Brookville.

Aquatic physical therapy is the practice of physical therapy techniques utilizing water to achieve functional goals, according to Mark J. Hoffman, physical therapist and director of Rehabilitation and Occupational Health at Penn Highlands Elk.

Under the supervision of a physical therapist or physical therapist assistant, an aquatic therapy program in a pool provides an excellent therapeutic environment for people with the following conditions:
Healing fractures
Balance and coordination disorders
Upper or lower extremity weakness
Limited range of motion
Difficulties walking
Core/trunk weakness
Pain/muscle spasms
Decreased endurance

The use of water can create a near zero gravity environment by varying its depths. “This gravity reduction allows an individual to perform activities that they would be unable to perform on land,” Hoffman said.

“When an individual exercises in water it causes widening of the blood vessels that can help facilitate healing to an injured area,” Marty Maloney, physical therapist and director of Rehabilitation Center, the Therapies and the Joint Replacement Center at PH DuBois and PH Brookville, said. “The increased blood flow to an injured site results in increased oxygen and nutrient delivery as well as waste product removal. All of which will promote the healing process.”

“The hydrostatic pressure exerted by water is yet another reason aquatic therapy can be beneficial,” Hoffman said. “When patients are submerged in water the hydrostatic pressure improves blood circulation significantly. This can decrease swelling particularly in the lower extremities of the body.”

Temperature also plays an important role in aquatic therapy. “Our pools at Penn Highlands maintain a temperature between 92-96 degrees,” Hoffman said. “The heated water helps aching muscles and joints to relax and improves blood circulation. Patients suffering from back pain and muscle spasms benefit from the heat. When you are able to reduce an individual’s pain you increase their ability to perform normal functional activities.”

“Water naturally adds resistance while exercising. Air resistance is much less than water resistance, so patients in water use many more muscles and have stronger muscle contractions than they would by exercising on land,” Joe Sansom, physical therapist with Penn Highlands Brookville’s PH North Fork office. “People find an increased benefit performing the same activities in the water as compared to on land due to the added resistance. Our therapists at Penn Highlands are also able to use special equipment in the water to add even additional resistance when needed.” 

After an injury, a patient often experiences difficulty walking and develops a fear of falling.  “Gait and balance training in the pool allows the patient the freedom to move without the fear of falling,” Hoffman said. “When indicated, our therapists at Penn Highlands will accompany a patient in the pool. While in the pool, our physical therapists use their specialized training to assist the patient to understand what areas he/she needs to work on to correct their particular dysfunction. Once this is accomplished in the pool, our therapists will transition the patient to land and continue their progression back to normal activities.”

The difference between aquatic physical therapy and aquatic exercise is that aquatic physical therapy includes the specialized clinical reasoning and decision making of a physical therapist. After a thorough evaluation, the physical therapist will develop an individualized treatment program addressing the patient’s specific physical needs.  

“The therapists at Penn Highlands make every attempt to reduce a patient’s fear by including them in their treatment plan. We work together to develop realistic and achievable functional goals. It is always our goal to have our patients reach their highest level of function at the lowest level of pain,” Hoffman said.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact Hoffman at 788-8490 option 1, Maloney at 375-3372 or Sansom at 849-6878.