Whenever someone asks for exercise suggestions after an injury, I always suggest swimming or something water-based. Working in water is gentler on the joints but no less effective than other exercise activities. As a matter of fact, our water therapy programs are a patient favorite at our office because patients, especially aging patients, are able participate in land-based activities without the impact of body-weight and joint impact. The truth is water-based activities have been found to be more effective than certain land-based exercise regimens. The tools used in water therapy are cutting-edge and are always a pleasant surprise for patients because they utilize equipment they know from the gym but are used underwater, making them accessible to almost all patient populations. One of those tools, the underwater treadmill is a current patient favorite and one that we recommend to all physical therapy clinics with water therapy programs. The underwater treadmill is our go-to especially for our aging patients and those with joint and muscle pain.
Top 5 Benefits of Underwater Treadmills
- Promotes Range of Motion:People with chronic conditions, like Osteoarthritis, or present a fall risk, usually avoid activities like walking and exercise, because of fear and the pain that could result. In comparison to a land-based treadmill, the underwater treadmill with the hydrostatic pressure of the water, patients bear as little as 20% of their own body weight in chest-deep water. Not only will the water help reduce swelling, it relaxes the joints, improves strength and flexibility.
- Aids Gait Training: With the low-impact environment, patients can practice gait training without the fear of falling. A third of all adults over the age of 65 will suffer a fall each year as a result of a lack of balance and a muscle weakness.
- Increased Flexibility: While underwater, a patient only bears 20% of their weight which removes joint stress. Combine that with the movements and cardiovascular activities patients will perform on the underwater treadmill and the results are increased flexibility.
- Increases Muscle Strengthening: A recent study by Texas A&M found that combining strength training and underwater treadmill workouts leads to building body mass more effectively than performing those activities alone or performing them with a land-based treadmill.
- Reduces Blood Pressure: Another study from Texas A&M showed that the underwater treadmill is more effective than land-based exercise in lowering blood pressure. There are over 67 million Americans with high blood pressure and many avoid exercise because of pain. With the underwater treadmill, they’re able to exercise again without pain and actually enjoy it.
This last benefit is a bonus and shouldn’t be discounted; patients enjoy using the underwater treadmill. After using the underwater treadmill, some patients report liking exercise for the first time in their lives. Patient compliance is a huge part of any successful physical therapy regimen and is completely out of control of the physical therapist. Tools like the underwater treadmill are the complete package: they can be used in multiple physical therapy populations, have many health benefits and are enjoyable to use.