Hydrotherapy is a recreational therapy that uses water-based exercises to help improve a person’s physical function and wellbeing. Hydrotherapy is a recognised and valuable method for treating individuals with cerebral palsy and is commonly used as a method of rehabilitation.
In a heated pool, water provides a soothing, buoyant environment for cerebral palsy patients, decreasing a patient’s effective weight by 90 percent. This allows cerebral palsy patients’ muscles to relax, moving and exercising more freely in the water while reducing limb mass.
Aquatic therapy specialists’ primary goals when working with cerebral palsy patients include, helping the patient gain more muscle control, increase their self-confidence, improve their physical function, and gain more independence. Additional physical and emotional benefits of Hydrotherapy for cerebral palsy patients include:
Reducing discomfort: The whole-body pressure provided by water can be effective at relieving pain in the joints and muscles. This can help patients recover from a therapy session and means that they can exercise in the water with less pain. This effect is further amplified when the patient is working in warm water, which allows muscles with high tone to relax providing a better environment for movement.
Prevents injuries: The buoyancy of water helps prevent cerebral palsy patients from injuring themselves during exercise by reducing the amount of stress on their joints. This allows them to perform activities, both aerobic and anaerobic, with less chance of injuring themselves.
Improves muscle tone and control: Water, while decreasing the weight of the patient, increases resistance as the body moves through it. Simply walking in water provides ten times more resistance than walking on land due to the viscosity of water. This means that even by doing simple movements, patients can experience deep exercise, building muscle and increasing muscle control more quickly and effectively, all without placing undue stress on their joints. This is especially helpful for patients having difficulty with low muscle tone. For those with high muscle tone, the warm water combined with the hydrostatic pressure makes movement underwater easier.
Improved cardiovascular function: When the body is submerged, the heart must pump more blood to make up for the increase in pressure. Even without exercising or moving, this helps to improve a patient’s cardiovascular fitness and increase their endurance
Improves flexibility: Water provides support as well as resistance, which can make it easier for patients to work through flexibility training exercises to increase their range of motion. This is particularly helpful for cerebral palsy patients working with rigid limbs and shortened muscles.
Improved confidence: Any disability takes a mental and emotional toll on a patient, and cerebral palsy patient’s are no exception. Lifelong difficulties with range of motion and pain can wear on the patient’s psyche. However, Hydrotherapy can bring a sense of accomplishment to the patient’s life, especially as they see improvements in their daily functionality. This, in turn, can help improve their self-confidence, emotional health and overall disposition.
Stress reduction: Any form of exercise can help reduce stress and tension, but when coupled with pain relief, this effect is even more pronounced. Hydrotherapy does both for cerebral palsy patients, providing a physical outlet while also reducing physical pain, delivering highly effective stress relief.
While traditional physical therapy offers many benefits for patients with cerebral palsy, aquatic therapy’s benefits provide an additional avenue to improve cerebral palsy patients’ overall health and well-being, empowering them both physically and mentally. When guided by a trained aquatic therapist, cerebral palsy patients often enjoy improved physical and psychological health from aquatic therapy, improving their quality of life in every aspect.