Benefits Of Aquatic Therapy

By Dana Hester
Interviewed by Melissa Moniz
Wednesday - March 17, 2010
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Dana Hester
Physical therapist

Where did you receive your schooling and training?

I received my master of physical therapy training at the University of South Alabama.

How long have you been practicing?

Five years plus.

What is aquatic therapy?

Aquatic therapy is designed to enhance and improve a person’s functional abilities. Basically, it’s for patients who have injuries that limit their movement and the ability to bear weight through their lower extremities. It’s easier for them to do therapy in the water because the pull of gravity isn’t as strong as on land. Motion and functional activity in the water are much more comfortable for them. For example, if someone had surgery on their leg and they have not been able to walk for a few months, it’s much easier to start the process of gaining that function back in the water rather than starting on land. So overall the water supports the body, reduces joint stress and provides assistance or resistance to movement.


What specific injuries does aquatic therapy help treat?

Individuals with a variety of medical conditions can participate in aquatic therapy. Back pain, knee injuries, ankle injuries, strokes, spinal cord injuries, pregnancy and arthritis are just a few of the conditions that can be treated with aquatic therapy.

Is the pool always heated because the water temperature affects the therapy progress?

Our pool is set at 92 degrees, but we have a retracting roof so some days the water is warmer. The water being heated helps relax the muscles and can increase the flexibility of the joints. Cold water could make the body tenser, so the ideal setting for therapy is a heated pool.

Physical therapist James Low is working with aqua therapy patients (from left) Alice Ige, Toni Turner, Winona Ciacci, Richard DeConti and Joseph Travaso

Do patients need to have some mobility to participate in aquatic therapy?

No, I’ve actually had patients who have not walked a day in their life. They really enjoyed getting into the pool and being able to get into a vertical position as opposed to just sitting or lying on their back. We have a chair lift to help those types of patients into the pool.

Is aquatic therapy at REHAB available for children as well?

We usually don’t see pediatric patients but, yes, we are able to treat all ages.

How often do patients come in for aquatic therapy?

I recommend my patients to be seen two to three times a week, and that’s one-onone sessions. Our community arthritis classes are two times a week, and those are done in small groups.

Has REHAB updated its aquatic therapy program along with its outpatient clinic?

As the pool has been around since 1957, we did do additional renovations as part of the outpatient clinic renovations. These included new flooring, reinforcing our roof, painting, installing a new gate and reinforcing some walls. We also ordered all new equipment such as flotation devices, ankle weights and water dumbbells. We even have special life vests for patients with spinal cord injuries. The vests help to keep the patient upright in the water. I also went to Las Vegas with another therapist for a week-long training course on aquatic therapy this past September.

What are some of the newest developments and treatments?

Ai chi is something that I am doing more often. It’s like tai chi, but done in the water. It’s to help improve balance, increase trunk strength and to promote relaxation. There are always new aquatic equipment and treatment techniques, so it’s important for our staff to attend ongoing educational sessions.

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