Aquatic Therapy: For low back pain | Total Performance Physical Therapy

Aquatic Therapy: For low back pain

June 6, 2019

Low back pain is the leading cause of referral to a physical therapy clinic. It is expected that around 80% of the population will experience low back pain during their lifetime. Most individuals who experience back pain recover quickly and their lives are only affected for a short period of time. However, a small percentage of individuals do not recover as fast and live with symptoms for extended periods of time. Low back pain can make ordinary activities difficult. It is often frustrating for individuals who experience chronic low back pain, because they may not be able to participate in work or recreational activities that they enjoy.

Physical therapy is an essential component in the recovery from low back pain.  Exercises targeting muscle imbalances, strength deficits, and poor posture can be used in the treatment of this condition. But what happens when exercising is too difficult and simple activities alone cause back pain? Performing exercises may be difficult for individuals who have chronic low back pain and for those who struggle with things such as sitting or standing due to their pain. For individuals with these concerns aquatic therapy can be a huge advantage.

Aquatic therapy uses the properties of water to help strengthen muscles and improve motion with decreased stress placed on the body. Hydrostatic pressure is a property of water that places pressure against your body when immersed in water. This pressure helps decrease swelling, which will allow for decreased pain.  Buoyancy is another property of water that aides in rehabilitation of those with chronic low back pain. Buoyancy is a force exerted by water opposite to the force of gravity. This allows your body to rise when submerged in water and acts as a body weight support. By supporting your body, decreased stress is placed on the joints and decreased spinal loading is experienced. This allows individuals to perform exercises with less pain in order to strengthen muscles and improve mobility. Resistance is a third property of water that uses viscosity, or the resistance of a liquid to flow, to provide a counter force to movements completed in aquatic environments. This provides resistance to your body and allows for strengthening of muscles to occur. Resistance can be progressed by increasing the speed of movements completed during aquatic therapy.

Research studies have investigated the benefits of aquatic therapy for chronic low back pain. Studies have found that trunk muscle activity is lower during exercises performed in aquatic environments compared to land based environments. This can be attributed to the decreased necessity for the trunk muscles to be active in order to support the individual’s body weight. This decreased activation can provide a more suitable activity level for trunk muscles to be strengthened with less pain.

Aquatic therapy allows individuals to perform exercises that are normally difficult on land, by decreasing loads placed on the spine. This allows individuals to exercise at higher intensities than they would be able to on land. By increasing muscle strength and joint mobility through aquatic exercise, individuals will be able to perform everyday activities with less pain. Once individuals are experiencing less low back pain and less difficulty throughout the day they will be progressed to land based exercises. Land based exercises will then allow individuals to strengthen their trunk muscles at higher intensities with more load placed on their joints. This will allow for the eventual return to functional and recreational activities pain free.

Call Total Performance Physical Therapy today to schedule your aquatic therapy appointment!