Blog by Bridget Hobbs, PT, DPT
If your child loves the pool or bath and has gross or fine motor skills that you would like them to improve on, they are likely a candidate for aquatic therapy. Here are 5 ways that aquatic therapy can help your child meet their goals:
1) Buoyancy: Children that are not able to walk on land are often able to walk with the buoyancy assist of water. Therapists assist this process with guiding movements at their trunk and legs in order to gain a forward momentum for walking. The principle of buoyancy can also help kids complete milestones such as rolling, crawling or standing in the water that will translate to more milestones on land. The principle of buoyancy makes walking in deeper water (at upper ribcage) easier then walking at waist level. So, when a child has mastered walking at deeper water, we will transfer the task to shallower water to more simulate walking on land.
2) Resistance: Water has a natural resistance property that helps to strengthen muscles. Even just walking forward, backward and sideways in the water can have a positive effect on building muscle in the legs and trunk.
3) Gains in range of motion: Therapy pools are generally set between a comfortable 80 and 90 degrees, which is a perfect temperature to help muscles relax. This temperature can allow the therapist to improve the flexibility of specific muscles that may be hard to relax and stretch otherwise. By completing passive and active strengthening exercises in the water, gains are often seen in the flexibility of joints that correlates to bigger step length, less risk for contractures and more relaxed kids!
4) Sensory: Kids with autism or other sensory processing disorders generally feel more at ease in the water, due to the large amount of proprioceptive input that they receive in the water-up to 14 times the normal amount! The deep pressure and tactile input that the water provides increases awareness of where their arms and legs are and what it feels like to move them, often leading to a more organized, relaxed child.
5) It’s fun! Often if kids plateau or are burned out of therapy in the clinic, switching to aquatic therapy can really give their attitude a boost. A change of environment, new activities and different ways to work their muscles can really have a positive effect on their motivation to do therapy.
Get your video cameras ready if you and your child are interested in pursuing aquatic therapy. They will likely meet milestones that they haven’t been able to meet on land, such as standing, walking, stair-climbing or jumping. Aquatic therapy can also provide confidence for improved independence in the water by learning important life-skills, such as floating, treading water and increasing comfort level in the water.
Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley has a fantastic aquatic therapy program and getting started is easy! Contact our intake coordinator at 630.282.2022 to ask questions or schedule an appointment. Or, visit us online at EasterSealsDFVR.org for program details.