Cool Down and Care Up with Aquatic Therapy: A Summer Guide for Nurses

May 3, 2024
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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As healthcare professionals, we increasingly use innovative methods to enhance patient care and outcomes, especially as temperatures rise. 

Aquatic therapy, a treatment incorporating physical exercises in a water environment, is gaining popularity, especially among pediatric and elderly patients. 

This summer, nurses have a perfect opportunity to explore how aquatic therapy can cool down their patients and significantly elevate their quality of life.

Understanding Aquatic Therapy

What is Aquatic Therapy?

Aquatic therapy involves using water-based treatments and exercises to improve health and wellness. Typically conducted in pools with controlled temperatures, this therapy is ideal for patients needing gentle but effective rehabilitation that traditional, land-based exercise might not provide. Water's buoyancy, resistance, hydrostatic pressure, and thermal properties create an excellent therapeutic environment for various conditions.

Why Choose Aquatic Therapy?

  • Reduced Joint Stress: The buoyancy of water reduces the weight bearing on joints by approximately 90%, making it easier for patients with arthritis or mobility issues to move.
  • Muscle Strength and Endurance: Water resistance is more dynamic and gentler than gym equipment, which helps build muscle strength without the risk of injury.
  • Improved Circulation: Hydrostatic pressure promotes blood flow, reducing swelling and improving cardiac function.
  • Enhanced Flexibility: Warm water relaxes muscles and facilitates a greater range of motion.
  • Pain Relief: Water has natural soothing properties that can help alleviate pain.

Aquatic Therapy in Nursing Practice

Integrating Aquatic Therapy into Care

Incorporating aquatic therapy into patient care plans can be a game-changer for nurses. Here’s how you can integrate this therapy:

  • Patient Assessment: Only some patients are suitable for aquatic therapy. Conducting a thorough assessment to ensure it’s safe and beneficial for each individual is crucial.
  • Setting Goals: Based on the assessment, realistic and measurable goals can be set that aquatic therapy can help achieve, such as improving mobility, reducing pain, or enhancing psychological well-being.
  • Collaboration: Work closely with physical therapists specializing in aquatic therapy to design and monitor treatment plans.
  • Education and Safety: Educate patients and their families about aquatic therapy's benefits and safety measures to ensure compliance and prevent injuries.

Adapting Aquatic Therapy for Patients with Severe Mobility Limitations

Aquatic therapy offers numerous benefits, but what about patients severely limited in mobility or who cannot safely enter a pool? Here are strategies to safely incorporate the principles of aquatic therapy for these patients, ensuring they, too, can benefit from the therapeutic properties of water:

Utilizing Water-Based Elements in Non-Traditional Settings

  • Hydrotherapy Beds and Mats: Hydrotherapy beds provide an alternative for patients unable to participate in pool-based activities. These beds utilize water jets and heat to stimulate muscle relaxation and circulation, closely mimicking some of the benefits of submerging water.
  • Portable Aquatic Equipment: Utilize portable equipment like water-filled weights or resistance tools during bedside therapy sessions. These tools can help simulate water's resistance and be used in a controlled, safe environment.

Creating a Water-Inspired Therapeutic Environment

  • Sensory Water Features: Incorporate small, bedside sensory water features to provide water's calming sounds and visual appeal. Such features can help reduce anxiety and create a more relaxing therapeutic space.
  • Virtual Reality Aquatic Environments: Virtual reality can simulate aquatic environments for patients who cannot physically interact with water. These VR experiences can provide psychological benefits similar to physical exposure to water, such as relaxation and stress relief.

Modified Aquatic Therapy Techniques

  • Assisted Range of Motion Exercises: Conduct gentle range of motion exercises while incorporating elements that mimic the buoyancy of water, such as specialized cushions or supports. This can reduce the gravity load on fragile joints and muscles, offering some physical benefits of aquatic therapy.
  • Therapeutic Imagery and Breathing Exercises: Combine guided imagery with deep breathing techniques to simulate the relaxing experience of floating in water. This approach can help in managing pain and anxiety, offering psychological benefits akin to those of actual water immersion.

Ensuring Safety and Comfort

When adapting aquatic therapy for severely mobility-limited patients, the primary concern is always safety and comfort. Here are key considerations:

  • Customized Assessments: A qualified professional must thoroughly assess each patient’s capabilities and risks to tailor the therapy appropriately.
  • Caregiver and Staff Training: Ensure that all caregivers and staff are well-trained in the equipment and techniques and understand the patient’s specific needs and limitations.
  • Continuous Monitoring: Patients with severe mobility limitations require careful monitoring during any therapy session to immediately address any discomfort or medical concerns that may arise.

By adapting aquatic therapy methods for patients with severe mobility limitations, nurses can provide the soothing, therapeutic benefits of water therapy in a manner that accommodates each patient’s specific needs and conditions. This inclusive approach ensures all patients can experience the therapeutic advantages of water, regardless of their physical capabilities.

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