Aquatic therapy has been shown to provide relief of symptoms from a variety of arthritides, traumatic injuries, and other musculoskeletal conditions. This procedure uses the therapeutic properties of water (e.g., buoyancy, resistance). Aquatic therapy may necessary for a loss or restriction of joint motion, strength, mobility, or function which has resulted from a specific disease or injury. The medical record should show objective loss of joint motion, strength, or mobility (e.g., degrees of motion, strength grades, levels of assistance). Standard treatment duration is 3 to 4 times per week for 2 to 4 weeks. It is not necessary to have more than one form of hydrotherapy during the same visit (NHIC, 2002). Other forms of exercise therapy may be necessary in addition to aquatic therapy when the member cannot perform land-based exercises effectively to treat his/her condition without first undergoing the aquatic therapy, or when aquatic therapy facilitates progress to land-based exercise or increased function.
Harmer and colleagues (2009) compared outcomes between land-based and water-based exercise programs delivered in the early subacute phase up to 6 months after total knee replacement (TKR). Two weeks after surgery (baseline), 102 patients were randomized to participate in either land-based (n = 49) or water-based (n = 53) exercise classes. Treatment parameters were guided by current clinical practice protocols. Thus, each study arm involved 1-hr sessions twice-weekly for 6 weeks, with patient-determined exercise intensity. Session attendance was recorded. Outcomes were measured at baseline and at 8 and 26 weeks post-surgery. Outcomes included distance on the 6-min walk test, stair climbing power (SCP), the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities (WOMAC) Osteoarthritis Index (n = 85 English-proficient patients), visual analog scale for joint pain, passive knee range of motion, and knee edema (circumference). Planned orthogonal contrasts, with an intent-to-treat approach, were used to analyze the effects of time and time-group interactions. Compliance in both groups was excellent with 81 % attending 8 or more sessions. Loss to follow-up was 5 %. Significant improvements were observed across time in all outcomes at 8 weeks, with further improvements evident in all variables (except WOMAC pain) at 26 weeks. Minor between-group differences were evident for 4 outcomes (SCP, WOMAC stiffness, WOMAC function, and edema) but these appear clinically insignificant. The authors concluded that a short-term, clinically pragmatic program of either land-based or water-based rehabilitation delivered in the early phase after TKR was associated with comparable outcomes at the end of the program and up to 26 weeks post-surgery.
In a controlled trial with blinded 6-month follow-up, Rahmann and colleagues (2009) assessed the effect of inpatient aquatic physiotherapy in addition to usual ward physiotherapy on the recovery of strength, function, and gait speed after total hip or knee replacement surgery. Participants (n = 65) were individuals undergoing primary hip or knee arthroplasty (average age of 69.6 +/- 8.2 yrs; 30 men). Subjects were randomly assigned to receive supplementary inpatient physiotherapy, beginning on day 4: aquatic physiotherapy, non-specific water exercise, or additional ward physiotherapy. Main outcome measures were strength, gait speed, and functional ability at day 14. At day 14, hip abductor strength was significantly greater after aquatic physiotherapy intervention than additional ward treatment (p = 0.001) or water exercise (p = 0.011). No other outcome measures were significantly different at any time point in the trial, but relative differences favored the aquatic physiotherapy intervention at day 14. No adverse events occurred with early aquatic intervention. The authors concluded that a specific inpatient aquatic physiotherapy program has a positive effect on early recovery of hip strength after joint replacement surgery. Moreover, they stated that further studies are needed to confirm these findings.
Hillier and colleagues (2010) stated that aquatic therapy is an intervention for children with developmental coordination disorder (DCD) that has not been investigated formally. In a pilot randomized controlled trial, these researchers investigated the feasibility and preliminary effectiveness of an aquatic therapy program to improve motor skills of children with DCD. A total of 13 children (mean age of 7 years 1 month; 10 males) with DCD were randomly allocated to receive either 6 sessions of aquatic therapy (once-weekly session of 30 mins for 6 to 8 weeks) or to a wait-list (control group). The intervention and measures were demonstrated to be feasible, but barriers, such as limited appointment times and accessibility, were encountered. Analysis of co-variance indicated that at post-test, mean scores on the Movement Assessment Battery were higher for children who received aquatic therapy compared to those on the wait-list (p = 0.057). Similar trends were noted on the physical competence portion of the Pictorial Scale of Perceived Competence and Social Acceptance (p = 0.058). However, these differences were not significant. These preliminary findings need to be validated by well-designed studies.
Tinti et al (2010) noted that the process of hemoglobin polymerization and the consequent sickling of red blood cells that occurs in patients with sickle cell disease shortens the half-life of red blood cells. It causes vaso-occlusive complications as well as pain and pulmonary and cardiovascular dysfunction. In a case study, these researchers evaluated an aquatic rehabilitation program used for patients with sickle cell anemia and examined the possible benefits that exercise in warm water has for the circulatory system for relieving pain as well as for increasing lung capacity. The patient was a 32-year-old female. The parameters that were used in this study included respiratory muscle strength (which was calculated by measuring maximum inspiratory pressures and maximum expiratory pressures), the McGill and Wisconsin pain questionnaires (in order to evaluate the patients’ characterizations and descriptions of their pain), and the SF-36 Health Survey. The treatment included warm water exercises, stretching, aerobic exercise, and relaxation, during 2 sessions of 45 mins per week for 5 weeks. The patient experienced a significant decrease in pain, a significant increase in the strength of respiratory muscles, and improved quality of life. The authors concluded aquatic rehabilitation can be used to improve the clinical condition of sickle cell anemia patients, and they stated that more research on this new treatment regime, in comparison with other types of therapies, should be encouraged.
Fibromyalgia (FM) is a debilitating condition characterized by the presence of widespread musculoskeletal pain. Moreover, there is inconsistent evidence regarding the effectiveness of various therapies developed so far, making FM a chronic disease that is difficult to treat.