Aquatic Physical Therapy: The Science Behind the Water

aquatic physical therapy

Aquatic physical therapy involves performing exercises and activities in water, usually a heated pool. Aquatic physical therapy can have lots of benefits for people with conditions like arthritis, back pain, fibromyalgia, osteoporosis, neurological disorders, sports injuries, and more. Let’s DIVE IN and explore some of the advantages of aquatic physical therapy.

Aquatic Physical Therapy Reduces Weight Bearing

One of the main benefits of aquatic PT is that it reduces the impact and stress on the joints and muscles, thanks to the buoyancy of water. When submerged, you feel lighter and more supported, which allows you to move more easily and comfortably. Your therapist can use different depths of water to change how much force you experience. For example, when the water is up to your neck, you only bear about 10% of your body weight. This can be especially helpful for people who have difficulty walking, standing, or exercising on land due to pain, stiffness, or weakness.

Aquatic Physical Therapy Uses Built-In Resistance

Another benefit of aquatic physical therapy is that water provides natural resistance. You’ve felt this if you’ve ever tried to move your arm or leg quickly underwater, or 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.


A third benefit of aquatic therapy is the hydrostatic pressure. This is the force that water exerts on an object, which increases with depth. If you’ve ever dove to the bottom of a deep pool and felt pressure on your body or in your ears, this is what caused it. The pressure of the water can be used to help reduce swelling in joints or tissues. The pressure of the water also gives your brain more input about the position your body and limbs are in. This can help improve proprioception, or the sense of where your body parts are in space. Improving proprioception can help enhance balance, coordination, and stability.


Our last benefit of aquatic PT is that it takes advantage of the warmth of the water, which can help relax the muscles and relieve pain. 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 the injured or affected areas. Lastly, warm water can also have a calming effect on the mind and body, which can help you feel better. 

Aquatic PT can reduce the impact and stress on the joints and muscles, provide resistance and hydrostatic pressure, and use the warmth of the water to 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.