Using Aquatic Therapy to Treat Knee Osteoarthritis
by Blake McDonald, DPT
AzOPT Buckeye Doctor of Physical Therapy
Osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee is an irreversible condition that will eventually require surgery. So why bother treating the knee with physical therapy if it is just prolonging the inevitable, right? WRONG!
Oftentimes, knee replacement surgery is only prescribed when symptoms cannot be managed conservatively. Regardless of whether surgery is planned, all individuals with knee osteoarthritis are urged to engage in weight loss and exercise. This alone can improve someone’s quality of life and prolong the lifespan of an arthritic knee until surgery is absolutely necessary. A secondary benefit is that these same principles prepare someone for the best and fastest recovery from knee replacement surgery.
Individuals in recent aquatic studies participated in aquatic therapy two times per week for three months focusing on stretching, strengthening, and aerobics. Results found a significant improvement in pain and disability scores as well as in quality-of-life scores that were deemed clinically relevant.
Due to the painful nature of knee osteoarthritis, it can be hard to get started with an exercise program sufficient enough to strengthen leg muscles while burning enough calories to assist with weight loss. Treatment in the aquatic setting can reduce the impact of all activities and reduce the painful symptoms associated with exercise. For example, a person may be able to jog in deep water for a “no-impact” exercise. The heated water of a pool in an aquatic physical therapy clinic can also provide pain relief, allowing greater activity endurance. Resistance from the water along with adjustments to buoyancy allow for progression of exercise to increase exercise challenge.
Physical therapy in the aquatic setting has shown to be effective in obtaining short-term benefits. These improvements may prove sufficient to return a person to their usual activities with significantly less pain. Should knee replacement surgery remain crucial, “pre-rehab” aquatic therapy can help someone achieve leg strengthening and knee range of motion to ensure minimal delay in resuming functional activity.
AzOPT Offers aquatic therapy exclusively at our Buckeye physical therapy clinic. AzOPT’s aquatic therapy program uses the physical qualities of water as a form of rehabilitation and/or exercise without the stress and weight bearing present with land-based physical therapy. Aquatic therapy is professionally conducted by an experienced, licensed physical therapist in shallow, temperature-controlled water.
Interested in scheduling an aquatic therapy evaluation? Click here.