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Hydrotherapy for Children

Aquatic emersion or “Hydrotherapy” has been used as a holistic alternative therapy for centuries. Hydrotherapy can target general aches and pains of the body as well as aid in the management of many chronic conditions and diseases. 

At COM our Accredited Exercise Physiologists utilise the warm water environment to provide therapeutic benefits for children with physical, sensory, and cognitive ailments. Research has shown that this alternative therapy can help improve motor skills, reduce stress caused by overstimulation, supports neuroplasticity, and improve quality of life. 

In this blog, we will explore some of the main benefits of hydrotherapy for children with different types of physical disabilities, mental health issues, and sensory conditions.

By Charne Whitfield
Exercise Physiologist

hydrotherapy for children

A Dynamic Approach

While passive hydrotherapy treatments offer benefits such as temperature regulation, hydrostatic pressure, and buoyancy, active hydrotherapy treatments can provide additional benefits to the body. 

The water environment allows for movements that may not be possible on land, and the increased resistance can further enhance the benefits of hydrotherapy. (Becker, 2009; Mooventhan & Nivethitha, 2014). The water-based environment can help aid in reduction of muscle spasticity through warmer temperatures, improve underwater gait kinematics, improve confidence, and ability to balance and functionally mobilize independently.  

Buoyancy in the water can decrease the effect of gravity by providing additional postural support, reduce abnormal joint loading that exercise on land may impose; thus, reducing overall joint impact.

"Walking, running, jumping, swimming, and cycling performed in the aquatic environment have been found to translate to functional improvements on land..."
hydrotherapy for functional improvement

How Does Hydrotherapy Work?

Compared to air, water is about 50-times more viscous (thicker). This can help reduce involuntary movements and assist with balance re-training because falling is slowed. As the speed of movement through water increases, the viscosity and drag force also increase, thereby increasing resistive forces. 

This resistance allows for a variety of functional, aerobic, and strengthening activities to be incorporated into a child’s treatment. Walking, running, jumping, swimming, and cycling performed in the aquatic environment have been found to translate to functional improvements on land (Bukowski, 2016).

In addition, it can be suggested that physical improvements from ongoing hydrotherapy interventions may also improve psychosocial benefits and sensory stimulation. 

Water immersion can have a calming effect and reduce stress caused by overstimulation. This is because children can enter a space that stimulates their senses while also promoting relaxation. 

Children with sensory processing disorders, sensory developmental problems, attention deficit disorder, autism, and mental health conditions such as anxiety can all benefit from this treatment method. 

 When submerged children can move more easily, develop a better sense of confidence by engaging in activities they may not be able to do so on land

What Are Some Of The Benefits?

hydrotherapy for children

Physical improvements: 

By understanding the physics of the body when submerged in water Exercise Physiologists can allow children to explore new and different movements in a safe space while also prescribing appropriate exercises to aid in their individual needs and goals.

Hydrotherapy can help improve:

1. Mobility

2. Flexibility

3. Balance

4. Coordination

5. Function

Hydrotherapy can help increase:

1. Strength

2. Range of movement

Hydrotherapy can help decrease:

1. Tone

2. Pain

3. Swelling

Sensory stimulation:

 Exercise Physiologists understand that hydrotherapy offers a unique multi-sensory environment that land base exercise simply cannot match. We provide children with specific sensory exercises and specialised equipment so they can learn through “play”.

·       Children with sensory issues often require constant pressure or touch – water can provide this through hydrostatic pressure which is evenly distributed throughout the entire body when submerged.

·       Floating is a relaxation tool that is often used to help children with sensory integration issues.

Psychological well-being: 

Exercise Physiologist’s are equipped with the knowledge to help children improve their self-confidence and self-efficacy during exercise whether it be in a water environment or on land.

·       Mood modification

·       Psychological benefits

·       Increased confidence in water

·       Provide relaxing techniques in a calming environment.

·       Improved Quality of life

Hydrotherapy or ‘water therapy’, can be the game changing modality to add to your recovery and rehabilitation.

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