The Lakeway Swim Center will host four free 30-minute water aerobics sessions as part of the Worldwide Aquathon Day on Nov. 11. COURTESY OF CITY OF LAKEWAY

The watery way nurses can reduce pain and improve fitness

The nurse’s guide to hydrotherapy

If you're thinking of gushing whirlpools and heated lap lanes as the exclusive therapeutic domain of college athletes and outpatients recovering from joint replacement, you could be missing out on the health benefits of hydrotherapy for nurses.

You may never have access to a hydrotherapy room like the one at the University of Georgia, with its hot and cold running in-ground whirlpools and underwater treadmills, but there are still many ways to tap the benefits of whirlpools and water exercise. 

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According to the Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health website, water therapy has many aliases, including pool therapy, aquatics or aqua therapy. But by any name, water exercise offers so many benefits for the nurses who put stress on their joints or experience back pain that it justifies finding an indoor pool or gym with a whirlpool in Atlanta. Water provides resistance and is "good for many people who have osteoarthritis, back pain, or fibromyalgia," according to PMLGH. "Exercising in water can increase your flexibility and range of motion without putting stress on your joints and spine. Warm water also helps relax your muscles."

Older nurses or those carrying some extra pounds may find water offers extra relief from typical age- or weight-related exercise pitfalls. 

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Robert Dothard recommended water therapy for Baby Boomers, particularly those who experience joint pain with running or aerobic classes. "Compared to pretty much any other exercise, aquatic training has the benefit of a complete lack of stress to the joints," said Dothard, a professional trainer who particularly focuses on making fitness welcome to families and clients ages 35-60 at Fit Family Smyrna. "If you're older or heavier, you may feel particularly comfortable in the water. It's also far more difficult to injure yourself doing water therapy, and you probably won't experience stress-related soreness or pain after."

Physical therapist Brett Sears works with outpatient orthopedic therapy and focuses on low back and neck pain rehabilitation as the owner of Capital Region Physical Therapy. But he stressed that even informal water exercise has merits for nurses looking to reduce their stress or keep a commitment to exercising. "The simplest way to get started using hydrotherapy is to join a gym with a hot tub. That way, you can easily enjoy the benefits of hydrotherapy without having to worry about the hassle of maintenance and upkeep of whirlpool and hydrotherapy equipment," advised Sears, who is a member of the American Physical Therapy Association and the physical therapy expert on Verywell.com. "The gym membership may motivate you to exercise more and improve your fitness level. Another simple way to get started with hydrotherapy is to purchase an in-home portable jet bath. This device fits onto your home's tub, allowing you to enjoy hydrotherapy and whirlpool treatments in your own home."

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To maximize the effectiveness of any whirlpool, Sears recommended positioning your body in front of the jets and letting the pulsating water gently massage your sore muscles. "Try to slowly and rhythmically move your joints while the whirlpool is massaging muscles," he added. "Research shows that back pain, neck pain, and peripheral joint problems respond best to exercise and movement."

For exercising in water, PMLGH recommended creating more resistance by wearing a flotation belt and moving quickly, but only increasing your speed gradually. "The higher the water is on your body, the more resistance you feel. A water level between waist- and chest-high is a comfortable place to start," PMLGH added. "You get resistance but also have support and balance. If you want to vary your intensity (interval training), sprint by raising your knees higher to run quickly. Move your arms up and down quickly at your side. Do this for 15 seconds. Then return to a slow jog or walk in the water."

Even the most casual water exercise or whirlpool massage may need the go-ahead from your primary physician, Sears cautioned. "It's a good idea to check in with your local physical therapist to learn specifically what to do to maximize your pain-free mobility. Also, some people with altered neurological sensation or with open wounds should not use hydrotherapy. Check in with your doctor to ensure that it is safe for you to use."

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