As defined by the Pediatric and Aquatic Academies of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) – Aquatic Therapy integrates the distinctive knowledge, skills and training of a physical therapist or physical therapy assistant and cannot be performed by an unlicensed individual, caregiver, personal trainer or aquatic instructor.
Aquatic Physical Therapy is directed and supervised by a physical therapist with understanding and skills necessary for effective intervention in an aquatic environment. A skilled evaluation by a Physical Therapist with goals and plan of care are developed based on each patient and family’s specific needs. The unique properties of the water provide patients with opportunities to gain skills and function which can be more difficult to achieve on land. Aquatic Physical Therapy complements and supports the goals and plan of care necessary for achievement of independent mobility and function on land.
The unique principles of hydrostatic pressure, buoyancy, and viscosity of the water create an environment in which gravity is decreased and support for movement can be provided. Some of the benefits include the following:
*depending on water temperature, speed, resistance and handling, muscle stiffness and joint tightness can be decreased resulting in the ability to move with more ease and through a larger range of motion with little to no pain
*buoyancy provides an upward force in the water allowing for increased movement and assisted movement of a joint with muscle weakness
*buoyancy and resistance create opportunities for more repetitions of movement of a joint with muscle weakness
*buoyancy also unloads the body making it easier to stand or walk in the water with ease
*buoyancy decreases gravitational forces and allows a child to generate more force for necessary jumping, hopping and running activities
*the hydrostatic pressure of water provides a rich sensory environment for proprioception and body awareness, allowing a child to learn where and how to move
*the hydrostatic pressure increases circulation and respiration. Core strength and breathing strength are increased when a child is immersed in the water.
*the hydrostatic pressure can help increase pulmonary strength necessary for speech volume and production