Aquatic Therapy for Sports Injuries
Aquatic therapy is particularly beneficial for sports injuries as it allows athletes to start their rehabilitation process early and maintain their fitness levels. It can promote an earlier return to training and sports participation.
During rehabilitation, it can take months or even years to build muscle tissue strength and range of movement. Training efficiency can be boosted by exercising in water, using the properties of the water to speed recovery and boost muscle performance.
1) Hydrostatic Pressure
As water is denser than air, it exerts more pressure on you when you are submerged. It compresses your skin, muscles, and joints via hydrostatic pressure. Hydrostatic pressure forces the heart and lungs to work harder because the chest cavity is under direct pressure. In addition, it acts like a compression bandage for the entire body, helping to relieve muscle aches and inflammation when the affected body part is submerged.
2) Dulled Sense of Touch
One of the biggest obstacles to rehabilitation therapy on land is the pain involved in moving injured muscles when trying to restore function. The nervous system has an acute network of nerve endings in the skin and muscles that can respond to the slightest stimulus. Under a constant stimulus, such as pressure from the water, the nervous system will automatically dull the reticular system, which is the part of the brain responsible for dealing with tactile sensory neurons. This can also help to dull muscle pain, making it easier for you to work and stretch your muscles to their full range of movement to speed up recovery.
One of the biggest aquatic therapy benefits is the constant resistance water offers when compared to air. Being forced to exert more energy to perform normal movements under the water helps build weakened muscles faster by using more muscle fibres. The resistance of the water can also help to keep the person standing and minimises any possible fear of falling due to water’s buoyancy.
4) Rebuilding ‘Muscle Memory’
When in water, the natural viscosity and resistance of the water forces you to move more slowly. This allows the brain additional time to process the signals from your muscles. This is ideal for rebuilding ‘muscle memory’ and regaining previous levels of skill in performing certain movements via the process of neuro-muscular re-education.
5) Improved Circulation
When submerged in water, due to hydrostatic pressure, your heart is under constant pressure which increases cardiac output. Furthermore, water in the aquatic therapy pool is maintained at a significantly higher temperature than swimming pools (around 35 degrees centigrade) which dilates blood vessels. These factors work together to improve blood circulation. This increased blood flow to the limbs helps promote healing and can counteract poor circulation by getting oxygen-rich blood to reach the peripheries of the body.
6) Muscle Relaxation
Muscle soreness experienced by those who participate in sports can be caused by a build-up of lactic acid. Improved circulation and blood flow to the muscles carries this lactic acid away and eases soreness, allowing muscles to relax. The warmth of the water also makes the muscle fibres and connective tissues easier to stretch allowing you to target areas of tightness and promote muscle relaxation.