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Water Therapy and the Spine

by Kimberly Bergeron, PA-C, MPAS


With summer heat upon us, it’s the perfect time to cool off in a pool. But did you know there are also numerous benefits for the spine? Water therapy allows for various exercises to be done in a pool. These exercises can be performed to help strengthen the core muscles of the spine. Water therapy can be performed on one’s own time or with the supervision of a trained physical therapist. This form of therapy can be beneficial to those who cannot tolerate a land-based exercise program.

There are numerous benefits to water therapy because of the physical properties of the water. These properties include buoyancy, viscosity, and hydrostatic pressure. There is a decrease of the stress placed on your spine because of the buoyancy provided by the water. Buoyancy allows one to twist and turn more freely; therefore, allowing one to perform Range of motion (ROM) exercises that are not possible on land. Additionally, water provides a resistance of 600 times that of air helping muscles to strengthen. The risk of falling is eliminated in water allowing for improved mobility.

Water temperature is important during the exercises. Pool temperature should be between 86-98 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature is lower it can result in muscle tension. And, if the temperature is higher it could result in overheating or fatigue. Normal fatigue after a water therapy workout should only last 2-3 hours. If the fatigue lasts longer, one should reduce the intensity of the next pool session or consult a physician.

Water therapy does have some limitations and may not be for everyone. This type of therapy should be avoided if one has a fever, infection, or an open wound.  Also, it is not recommended in individuals with heart failure.

Exercises range from simple routines to more advanced using special equipment. Below you can find various exercises that can be performed on your own at home. Also, you may download our pdf  with detailed exercise instructions.

Pool exercises:

  1. Pool Walking- step forward with one leg. Strike pool bottom with heel. Rolling over foot, bring other leg forward.
  2. Side Step- move one leg out to side with knee slightly bent, then bring other leg to it.
  3. Hip Flexion, knee straight- Lift right leg straight forward and up, then repeat on the other leg.
  4. Leg Circle- raise left leg forward to comfortable height, knee straight. Circle same leg in front of body. Then repeat with the other leg.