Water Therapy for RA
I always remember loving the water—bouncing, floating and splashing even though I couldn’t swim. My mom tells me I was an excellent swimmer as a toddler. But once my rheumatoid arthritis spread to enough joints, I lost too much mobility for swimming.
Nevertheless, pool time was a fun activity and later became purposefully therapeutic. Following my hip and knee replacements when I was a teenager, we arranged for aqua therapy at a local pool with a physical therapist.
When I began, I wasn’t able to stand or walk because I was extremely weak after the surgeries. The buoyancy of the water supported my weight so that I was able to stand in the pool, then later walk and eventually build enough strength to do these activities topside.
Not only does the water help support our joints in the water, it can act as resistance to provide strengthening when we exercise. For me the water is also soothing and can warm my joints. In the winter I especially like going into a hot whirlpool for a few minutes.
One of my goals following my knee replacement last year was to be able to return to the pool for exercises. My early rehabilitation was at an inpatient facility, then regular outpatient appointments. Going back to the pool required some gains in stamina and endurance.
Recently I’ve been going to the pool at last once a week for my exercises. From my physical therapists throughout the years I have collected exercises I can do to help build strength in both my arms and legs. It can be as simple as walking back and forth across the pool. The water supports my balance while also giving resistance so that my leg muscles have to work.
I have a circuit of pool exercises that I loop through a few times until I’m tired (but not too tired to get back home). My husband goes with me to help and also make sure that I’m safe. While standing I sidestep, hop, and kick. For my arms I do windmills and other range of motion movements. With a spotter I can float and kick. To increase intensity I can move quicker or do more repetitions.
A lot of what I do in the pool depends on how I’m feeling that day. Water therapy is a great way to get some exercise with less stress on painful or stiff joints. I find that I can usually do a little even on the bad days. And if I can’t do much, sitting in the warm water is soothing and can help without the exercise.
Sometimes the best feeling is just having a float and feeling the burden lift from my joints. I imagine this is what it would feel like to be weightless in space, not have the constant pressure of gravity on my bones. A few minutes in the whirlpool is even better for heating joints and relaxing tense muscles.
I also feel that the more regularly I do my aqua therapy the more the benefits build. After skipping the pool for a few weeks, it’s hard to get back. Frankly, gentle exercises in the pool makes me feel better over time—my joints become less stiff and sore, while improving my energy.
Going to the pool can involve additional effort for getting my exercise, but for me it is a good payoff. I often get tired of doing my same, old exercises at home. A weekly (or more) trip to the local pool provides a refreshing (ha ha!) change of pace, while also making sure that I get in my exercise.
This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.