Aquatic therapy offers postive alternative for rehab patients

Aquatic therapy offers postive alternative for rehab patients


by IRA CRONIN / NBC Charlotte

Bio | Email | Follow: @IraWCNC

Posted on February 18, 2014 at 10:14 AM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 18 at 10:20 AM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Physical therapy can be hard and painful for anyone of any age. 

Joan Burlingham had her right knee replaced back in October. 

“I was always active but the knee pain was something that bothered me all the time I walk every day and it really was slowing down my walking,” Burlingham said.

Burlingham said she knew physical therapy after surgery would be hard work, but it turned out to be more difficult than she had imagined. 

Her rehab was further complicated as a small problem arose that her therapist Scott Canup with Ortho Carolina quickly caught on to. 

“Joan was a patient of mine she came in for knee rehab after she had her knee replaced.  Things were going wonderfully, she had great motion and was progressing nicely, but she began having difficulty walking.  Her walking pattern was incorrect so I suggested to her that we get her in the pool and see if we could improve things.”

Professional athletes have recognized the benefits of aquatic therapy for years, but now it's becoming more available to regular physical therapy patients of all ages. 

From patients like Burlingham who have had knee replacement, to high school athletes who had had knee injuries or surgery.

Burlingham says she really didn't know what to anticipate in the pool.

 “I didn't want to walk correctly out of the pool, because when I did it would hurt.  When I got on the treadmill in the pool, my therapist Scott set it for about 25 minutes and I was able to walk in there without pain.  It was terrific the water makes you feel lighter, it was just great. 

When I tried walking and running on the underwater treadmill for myself, I have to admit it was a unique feeling.  You do feel lighter, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. "

There are water-jets in the tank when you combine those with increasing the speed on the treadmill it can be very difficult and therapist like Canup are trained to know exactly how hard their patients should be working to get their rehab on track.

Canup said the pool enables the muscles to use the memory that's in them, and the water makes you buoyant so you don't have to support as much of your weight. 

Therefore there's not as much pain and patients are able to walk correctly and that muscle memory kicks back in.” 

Burlingham said:  “You just hold on and it's great I didn't feel any pain.  It was a totally different feeling then walking on land, or on a regular treadmill.  I walked in the pool and then after when I got to my car, I thought to myself wow I'm really tired!  How did that happen?  I really felt like I had worked hard physically.” 

Getting patients to work had is half the battle for any physical therapist and aquatic therapy is becoming another tool that is more commonly used to help in the healing process.