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Posted September 13, 2013
Pediatric Aquatic Therapy at All Children's Hospital

The pediatric occupational therapy (OT) and physical therapy (PT) programs at All Children’s Hospital treat children with a variety of diagnoses. Our typical setting for providing these services is in the clinic, on land. However, we also provide specialized rehabilitation using water as a modality to assist children with achieving their functional goals. The benefit of adding a treatment modality that reduces the effect of gravity is that it often allows children to move and strengthen muscles that they have not previously been able to use effectively. Plus, most children consider pools a fun environment, making the potential for progress even greater.

Aquatic Theraby by All Childrens's Hospital

The pediatric occupational therapists and physical therapists that provide therapy in the pool undergo extensive training for the use of this modality. Not only do they have advanced degrees in their profession, but all have attended intensive training to become experts in pediatric aquatic therapy. Training includes review of recent research and education related to variations to movement quality using aquatic and physics concepts correctly. Additionally, it is important for therapists working in the water to know appropriate equipment to use, and contraindications and precautions specific to the aquatic environment. Some of our therapists are also certified through the Aquatic Therapy & Rehab Institute. All therapists are trained in water safety and CPR.

Aquatic therapy combines the benefits of occupational therapy and physical therapy with the advantages of gravity reduced exercise in a warm-water environment. Once gravity is reduced, the use of typical OT and PT treatment theories must be adapted. In the water, many of our children are able to freely move in a way they are not able to on land. Body weight is reduced by up to 90 percent in the water allowing the patient more freedom of movement and improved muscle relaxation with reduced exhaustion.

Aquatic therapy combines the benefits of occupational therapy and physical therapy with the advantages of gravity reduced exercise in a warm-water environment.

As a result of the buoyancy and support provided by the water, functional training can often be initiated sooner than it would be on land. For example, because the water helps support the arm in an abducted position on the surface of the water, the child will be able to focus on gripping various pool toys and equipment for improved hand strength and coordination. Another example is by having a child reach and pull his arms through the water, muscle strength and coordination will improve for increased function related to dressing and feeding activities.

Gross motor function is also positively impacted. For example, by having the child walk up and down the ramp leading into/out of the pool, difficulty can be graded with the deeper end providing more support and the shallower end providing less support. Also, the child can practice sitting down and standing up on a submerged bench to improve independence with transitional activities by strengthening the quadriceps and hamstrings. These are all activities the child may not be able to practice on land.

Benefits of Aquatic Therapy:

  • Improved cardiovascular, respiratory, and musculoskeletal effects due to the body’s response to immersion
  • Improved range of motion, muscle tone, and strength
  • Improved awareness of body movements, balance, and coordination
  • Decreased muscle stiffness, spasms, and guarding
  • Improved endurance and tolerance to handling
  • Decreased pain, fear, and apprehension
  • Increased body awareness, attention span, and sensory motor integration
  • Because of the calming and proprioceptive effects of water, this environment encourages risk taking and experimentation required for the learning and practice of functional skills under the watchful eye of a trained therapist
  • Carryover of learned functional skills in multiple environments
  • Increased opportunity for success and building of self-esteem, confidence, and empowerment
  • Exercise in an aquatic environment can lead to lifelong opportunity for fitness and community integration
  • Increased feeling of being “mainstreamed” in a community environment
  • Increased motivation to exercise and strengthen muscles in a fun environment

Interested in more information about Aquatic Therapy?