Aquatic Physical Therapy for Motor Vehicle Injuries

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Aquatic therapy is one of the oldest forms of medical treatment. Bathing in hot mineral springs has been used in classical medicine as a cure for disease and injury dating back to the time of Hippocrates. The first documented use of water to treat orthopedic injuries is credited to the Romans. Today, physical therapists continue to use and develop this effective treatment.

Physical therapists trained in aquatic therapy use the physical properties of water to relieve their patients' suffering and return them to an active and healthy level of function. The single most important property is temperature. Hydrotherapy in its oldest and most basic form requires a temperature of at least 90 degrees. The warmth and pressure of the water assists with pain relief, swelling reduction, and ease of movement. Buoyancy reduces the stress of weight on joints affected by pain. Patients are able to exercise aerobically and at higher intensities than would be possible on land, owing to the reduction of joint loading. Water turbulence and viscosity are used to provide resistance. Since resistance is a factor of the speed of movement in the water, it is completely under the control of the individual.

One important benefit of the aquatic environment is that it allows for earlier intervention. Experts rate hydrotherapy as one of the most tolerable of several potential treatments. Patients can start moving within days of an injury with little or no risk of reinjury. A degree of pain relief occurs during aquatic physical therapy due to the physical properties of water. Water creates a soothing counter irritant effect and desensitizes the individual to the pain. Warm water also reduces muscle guarding and spasm, allowing increased flow of oxygen and nutrients to injured tissues. Aquatic therapy helps break the pain cycle, restoring an individual's mobility more rapidly than a land-based program.

Recent technological developments have brought aquatic therapy into the 21st century. The therapeutic pools available to patients today have variable speed underwater treadmills, adjustable water resistance jets, adjustable temperature, variable depths, massage jets and hoses, underwater cameras, and continuous currents for swimming.

An active program of treatment is the most effective path to recovery from injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident. Aquatic therapy makes this immediately possible for the patient.

Dr. Velsmid is the Director of Boston Sports Medicine ( and can be reached by e-mail: