Aquatic Physical Therapy: The Science Behind the Water

| Live Your Life

Aquatic physical therapy involves performing exercises and activities in water, usually a heated pool. People with conditions like arthritis, back pain, fibromyalgia, osteoporosis, neurological disorders, sports injuries, and more can all benefit from aquatic physical therapy.1-6 Let us DIVE IN and explore some of the advantages of aquatic physical therapy.

Reduced Weight Bearing

One of the main benefits of aquatic physical therapy is that it reduces the impact and stress on the joints and muscles due to buoyancy of water.3 The depth of the pool changes how much force you experience. As you move to higher pool depths, the weight you feel from your body decreases. Feeling lighter allows you to move easily and comfortably. This can be especially helpful for people who have difficulty walking, standing, or exercising on land due to pain, stiffness, or weakness.1-2

Built-In Resistance

Another benefit of aquatic physical therapy is that water provides natural resistance. You have felt this if you have ever tried to move your arm or leg quickly underwater or tried to run in a pool. Water resistance can be adjusted by changing the speed, direction, or surface area of the movement. There is also equipment like hand webs, water weights, and kickboards that can make movements more challenging. Resistance training can help increase muscle strength and endurance, as well as improve blood circulation and heart health.


The third benefit of aquatic physical therapy is the hydrostatic pressure of water. This is the force that water exerts on an object that increases with depth. You felt hydrostatic pressure if you dove to the bottom of a deep pool causing an increase of pressure on your body and ears. The pressure of the water can be used to help reduce swelling in joints or tissues. Pressure of the water also gives your brain more sensory input about the position of your body and limbs. The ability to sense where your body parts are in space is called proprioception. Improving proprioception can enhance your balance, coordination, and stability.1


Our last benefit of aquatic physical therapy is that the warmth of the water can help relax the muscles and relieve pain.2 Warm water stimulates nerve endings in your skin, which can help block pain signals. It also dilates the blood vessels, which can increase blood flow and oxygen delivery to injured or affected areas.2 Lastly, warm water can have a calming effect on the mind and body.

Aquatic physical therapy can reduce the impact and stress on the joints and muscles, supply natural resistance, and provide gentle compression.  The use of warm water can reduce pain while improving strength, endurance, proprioception, and function. Aquatic physical therapy can also be fun and enjoyable! If you are interested in aquatic physical therapy, talk to your doctor or physical therapist to see if it is suitable for you. At Live Your Life, we meet you wherever it is convenient and comfortable for you, contact us today for free consultation!


1Aquatic Therapy | Therapy Services |

2Aquatic Therapy Services | UPMC Rehabilitation Institute. UPMC | Life Changing Medicine.

3Ma J, Chen X, Xin J, Niu X, Liu Z, Zhao Q. Overall treatment effects of aquatic physical therapy in knee osteoarthritis: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Orthop Surg Res. 2022;17(1):190. Published 2022 Mar 28. doi:10.1186/s13018-022-03069-6

4Giuriati S, Servadio A, Temperoni G, Curcio A, Valente D, Galeoto G. The effect of aquatic physical therapy in patients with stroke: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Top Stroke Rehabil. 2021;28(1):19-32. doi:10.1080/10749357.2020.1755816

5Amedoro A, Berardi A, Conte A, et al. The effect of aquatic physical therapy on patients with multiple sclerosis: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Mult Scler Relat Disord. 2020;41:102022. doi:10.1016/j.msard.2020.102022

6Peng MS, Wang R, Wang YZ, et al. Efficacy of Therapeutic Aquatic Exercise vs Physical Therapy Modalities for Patients With Chronic Low Back Pain: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Netw Open. 2022;5(1):e2142069. Published 2022 Jan 4. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.42069

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