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How Aquatic Therapy Can Help You Rehab from Spinal Surgery

The Benefits of Water-Based Physical Therapy During Your Recovery

During back surgery recovery, exercise and physical therapy are crucial pieces in the process of returning a person to full function, but they must be performed in a careful manner.  Often, during the recovery period after back surgery, patients cannot perform weight bearing exercises on land. Accordingly, aquatic physical therapy is typically the first step in the rehabilitation program after spine surgery. Aquatic therapy offers a gentle solution, an exercise program that helps the body heal while rebuilding the muscles around the spine. Water provides the ideal environment to exercise safely and effectively, helping patients return to maximum health with minimal risk of re-injury or long-term pain. Once cleared by your doctor, specially trained aquatic physical therapists can design a program to meet your unique needs and goals.

What Is Aquatic Therapy?

Aquatic therapy, also known as hydrotherapy, is a form of rehabilitative medicine that uses the physical properties of water to assist in patient healing and the performance of essential exercises. It is basically an exercise program that is performed in water, commonly in a temperature-controlled pool. The therapy takes place under the supervision of a licensed medical practitioner, typically a physical therapist who has completed additional course work specializing in aquatics. 

What Are the General Objectives of Aquatic Therapy?

As a form of physical therapy, aquatic therapy utilizes the properties of water to assist in the rehabilitation process by:

  • Improving muscle strength and flexibility
  • Enhancing the healing process of injured tissues
  • Improving joint motion
  • Alleviating muscle tension and promoting relaxation
  • Helping patients reestablish safe and efficient walking patterns
  • Improving coordination and balance, especially for standing and walking activities
  • Promoting relief of pain and swelling

Why Is Aquatic Therapy a Good Choice after Spinal Surgery?

Aquatic therapy offers three primary benefits to individuals seeking to rehabilitate after spinal surgery:

  • Water exercise significantly reduces the impact involved in most rehabilitation exercises and activities. In the pool, the buoyancy of the water allows for less weight on your joints, so you’re not putting the same amount of stress on your spine that you would be if you were standing on the ground. Research indicates that performing rehabilitation exercises in water can reduce spinal compression by more than half, depending on the depth of the water
  • Depending on the type of therapy, the water temperature typically runs from 83-93 degrees Fahrenheit—That’s warm enough for you to be comfortable, but slightly cooler than your body temperature, which can feel good on those areas where you had surgery. Immersion in the water will increase the circulation of your blood, which will help in the healing process after spine surgery.
  • The buoyancy from the water makes it easier to increase your range of motion and muscle strength—Because arms and legs can float on the water, you can lift or extend limbs with greater ease than you could standing in a gym. In addition, when you move your limbs in the water, you encounter resistance, which can gently help rebuild muscle strength and stamina. Walking in the water at various speeds and directions is also a great way to strengthen your spinal and other core muscles and work on balance skills at the same time. It’s what we call a “multi-task exercise”!