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Begin Your Spine Surgery Rehabilitation With Aquatic Therapy

Authored by Rich Banton. September 14, 2020

Aquatic therapy is typically the first step in a patient’s rehabilitation program after spine surgery. The first stage of rebuilding after recovery is often water-based before progressing to land-based physical therapy. Our spine surgeons work with our spine-specialized physical therapists (VTFC) to incorporate this as a critical component of spine surgery recovery. Aquatic therapy has many  benefits for patients that are ready to regain strength but have not healed enough to begin land-based physical therapy. Aquatic therapy provides a weightless environment that allows patients to perform simple exercises that push the muscles without causing strain. 

As the medical landscape continuously changes during the pandemic, we have received questions from our patients regarding the safety of our aquatic therapy environment. Current evidence does not exist that COVID-19 can spread through water transmission. Proper operation, maintenance, and disinfection (e.g. bromine) remove or inactivates the virus that causes COVID -19. Also, the pool and surrounding areas are disinfected between patients throughout the day. We are diligently testing and maintaining proper levels of water sanitation to inactivate the COVID-19 virus. Due to the sterile water environment, hydrotherapy may offer one of the safest rehabilitation options available.

We are fortunate to be able to offer state-of-the-art surgical rehabilitation to our patients right here in our facility. VTFC is home to one of only a few HydroWorx 300 aquatic tanks in the state of Virginia. VTFC Co-Director, Rich Banton dives into the benefits and demonstrates the seamless transition aquatic therapy creates to land-based physical therapy. 

THREE BENEFITS OF AQUATIC THERAPY FOR SPINE SURGERY RECOVERY: 

  1. REDUCES IMPACT: 

Aquatic therapy provides a nearly weightless environment that offers the ability to improve strength, flexibility, and function to progress recovery. Patients with soft tissue injury, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, or orthopedic disorders benefit from the buoyancy (upward force) of the water. Aquatic therapy decreases compression (up to 75%) on your spine and other joints. Performing post-surgical rehabilitation in the water reduces the amount of weight the spine and joints have to support. Water buoyancy supports about 50 percent of a person’s body weight when immersed waist-deep and about 75-90 percent of body weight for a person immersed up to the neck.

  1. THERAPEUTIC TEMPERATURE (80-84 DEGREES) IMPROVES CIRCULATION:

The comfortable temperature of the water allows for comfort for the patient, but also provides a cooling environment to post-surgical areas that are usually above average body temperature, 98-101 degrees. Pressure from being immersed in the water facilitates blood circulation, which means your heart works more effectively. You can reduce your target heart rate as much as 17 beats per minute.

  1. BUOYANCY AIDS RANGE OF MOTION:  

The water creates an advantage (buoyancy effect) which allows patients to perform a range of motion exercises in the pool that they would not be able to perform safely on land. Exercising in water also creates resistance, which can aid in increasing muscle strength and stamina for inactive people. It also helps maintain strength for those who are currently active. For an even greater benefit, resistance devices can be used as a tool to increase the resistance for greater outcomes.

The benefits of aquatic therapy far exceed traditional rehabilitation. It’s also great for increasing flexibility, muscle strength, and balance. It can serve as a precursor to typical land-based physical therapy since it is much easier on the joints and loosens muscle tightness. The gravity-reduced environment allows patients to greatly progress in their recovery when used alongside traditional physical therapy. Learn more about our  HydroWorx underwater treadmill, and be sure to discuss this option with your spine surgeon to understand whether it would be appropriate for your rehabilitation plan.

About The Author

Rich Banton, Physical Therapist

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