In the swim
The healing benefits of water have been recognized for centuries, as evidenced by the baths and water tanks used by ancient cultures for cleansing and curative treatments.
In modern times, a growing number of people are taking the plunge, turning to pools as a place to exercise or to heal from injury or ailment. More than 6 million people are taking part in “aquasize” programs each year, and countless others are benefiting from aquatic therapy.
“There is nothing like getting into the pool, away from the outside world, where it’s just you and your thoughts moving through the water,” says Kristine Drinovsky, general manager of Community Hospital's Peninsula Wellness Center (PWC) in Marina, which has a lap pool and a therapy pool, as well as a spa.
On any given day, someone recovering from joint surgery may be working with a physical therapist in the therapy pool while lanes of the lap pool are occupied by people walking, jogging, or swimming their way to better health and fitness.
“Whether someone is recovering from injury or just wants to get stronger, more flexible, or in better shape, they can benefit from water-based exercise,” Drinovsky says. “It’s the best form of exercise because it has no impact on the joints but still offers the resistance you need to get a good workout. The buoyancy of water supports the body, minimizes muscle fatigue, and eliminates the impact on joints.”
Drinovsky, a former college basketball player, competitive triathlete, and triathlon coach has spent plenty of time exercising, and much of it in the water.
“Some people are scared of strength-training machines or climbing onto a treadmill,” she continues. “But the water is forgiving; it cradles you.”
That combination of a comforting yet challenging environment is also what makes water-based physical therapy inviting and effective for so many people. Aquatic physical therapy can help people improve or maintain:
- aerobic capacity and endurance conditioning
- balance, coordination, and agility
- body mechanics and posture stabilization
- gait and locomotion
- muscle strength, power, and endurance
Physical therapists from Community Hospital’s Rehabilitation Services department use the Bad Ragaz Ring Method of aquatic therapy when working with patients. It is named for a community in Switzerland, where residents discovered that submerging the body and engaging in slow, repetitive movement in the warm, thermal waters of a river running through town seemed to provide relief from chronic pain.
In the Bad Ragaz Ring Method, the physical therapist stands in a warm-water pool and applies passive movement to patients, who float on their backs supported by buoyant rings or other equipment. This process helps release tension and increase range of motion in the joints and spine.
Aquatic therapy may be used after surgery, for orthopedic disorders, or sports rehabilitation, arthritis, balance disorders, back pain, or chronic pain.
Jil Johnson, physical therapist in
“Rehabilitative exercises performed while immersed in a resistive yet gravity-minimized environment enable patients to move in ways they could not on land,” says Jil Johnson, a physical therapist in Rehabilitation Services.
“The movements can be supported, assisted, or resisted by buoyancy."
“Therapists choose specific exercises based on the patient’s injury or impairment and goals. Our intent is to pair aquatic therapy with land-based exercise as soon as the patient is ready.”
Johnson, who was a competitive swimmer growing up and a lifeguard during college, credits her swimming background for her decision to go into physical therapy. She’s now back in the water, easing patients back to health.
“The four main properties of water that support therapy,” she says, “are water pressure, buoyancy, resistance, and temperature. Water pressure can improve circulation and the function of the lymphatic system, which protects against infection and disease. The deeper you go into the water, the more pressure you feel. Patients who want exercise but find it too painful on muscles or joints to get on a treadmill or bike can move more freely in water. And the turbulence, viscosity, and drag inherent in water provide the resistance needed to build strength and flexibility. Finally, warm water can help reduce pain and increase circulation to the extremities. All of these elements have different physiological effects on the body — different properties to help with different impairments.”
At PWC, the therapy pool is set at 92 degrees and the lap pool ranges from 79 to 82 degrees.
“Physical therapy sessions usually last an hour,” says Johnson. “Our goal with patients is to get them comfortable in the water. Once they feel the benefits of warm water, they tend to overcome any fear or self-consciousness and start to enjoy the healing process.”
Information about water-based physical therapy is available by calling Rehabilitation Services at 883-5640. Get more information about Peninsula Wellness Center or call 883-5656.