Hydrotherapy for Arthritis
Approximately 20 million Americans suffering from arthritis seek medical attention for their chronic, and sometimes acute, condition. Currently, there is no cure for arthritis, and conventional medical treatment is not entirely effective in preventing or stopping the pain and disability that results from arthritis. A variety of methods, allopathic and alternative, exist to manage the symptoms of arthritis. Exercise therapy has been proven effective in relieving pain and improving mobility—however, for people with arthritis, normal exercise can be painful. Hydrotherapy offers a way to exercise and improve body function without putting so much stress on your painful joints.
Hydrotherapy for Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
Hydrotherapy can be a beneficial form of treatment for individuals with arthritic conditions. During hydrotherapy, a person is submersed in water, either to soak or to exercise. A hydrotherapist can instruct a patient on the types of movements appropriate for his or her condition. Hydrotherapy can be especially useful to treat the joint pain and stiffness associated with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The painful swelling in the joints that occurs with rheumatoid arthritis has been shown to decrease with hydrotherapy. The warmth of the water is effective on the joints and soft tissues to decrease swelling and improve mobility in those joints. When you are in the water, the gravitational forces on the body are reduced; thus, the joints have a lighter load to bear during exercise.
Hydrotherapy with warm water or jets can also help increase blood flow, delivering more oxygen-rich blood to areas of the body that need it. Warm water is soothing to the muscles and can release tension associated with arthritic conditions, decreasing pain and inflammation in arthritis patients. Several studies have shown that hydrotherapy is an effective treatment to ease the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Hydrotherapy for Osteoarthritis (OA)
Hydrotherapy can also be effective in helping those individuals with osteoarthritis (OA). Several studies have shown that strength training and aerobic exercise can reduce pain and improve the physical function and general health of people with osteoarthritis in their knees. Water’s buoyancy offers an alternative method for getting exercise by allowing easier joint movement and being virtually impact-free, making it an excellent choice for people with painful joints.
To test the effectiveness of Hydrotherapy, a study in Australia conducted a trial involving sedentary individuals with painful knee and/or hip osteoarthritis. Fifty-five participants attended water-exercise classes for one hour twice a week for 12 weeks. Assessments of the participants’ pain and physical function were made before the beginning of the trial, after 12 weeks of classes, and again 12 weeks after the end of the classes. The Hydrotherapy group showed significant improvement in function as well as reduction in pain. These clinical benefits were generally sustained for three additional months after the classes ended.
Other Considerations for Those with Rheumatoid Arthritis
If you suffer from arthritis, it is important to receive a proper diagnosis by a health-care provider who has substantial conventional medical training and experience with arthritis patients. People with rheumatoid arthritis should have their condition monitored by a rheumatologist (a physician who specializes in diseases of the bones, joints, and muscles). This can prevent or minimize damage to the joints and possible disability.
People who have rheumatoid arthritis along with heart disease, lung disease, a circulation disorder, Raynaud’s disease, or chilblains should avoid Hydrotherapy and strong motions from water jets. Those who are pregnant, who have implanted medical devices such as pacemakers or pumps, or who have difficulty perceiving water temperature due to neuropathy or nerve damage should also avoid Hydrotherapy.
Hydrotherapy treatments can be used in conjunction with, but should not replace allopathic treatments for rheumatoid arthritis, especially during the early stages of the disease when researchers believe the most damage to joints and bones occurs. Consult your rheumatologist before taking any supplements or medications.
What is Hydrotherapy?
Hydrotherapy is a treatment for pain, injury, or disability that involves immersing part or all of a person’s body in water to improve one’s mobility or to relieve pain. The methods used are usually guided by a trained therapist. A few examples of Hydrotherapy include bathing in heated water, mineral baths, and water-jet massages. Hydrotherapy can also include aquatic exercise.
Hydrotherapy dates back to ancient Greece and Rome. Baths were used to treat all types of medical conditions, including pain similar to what is now considered arthritis. In recent centuries, it has been a popular treatment in Europe and Israel. Conventional medicine in the United States employs some forms of Hydrotherapy, such as whirlpool baths for athletic injuries and ice for sprains.
Hydrotherapy is often combined with other treatments, such as exercise, massage, a special diet, herbs, or mud packs. It is used to improve circulation and other health issues and to enhance feelings of relaxation and well-being.
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints usually caused by overuse, injury, infection, or immune disorders. The elderly are particularly susceptible to this prevalent chronic disorder. The two most common types of arthritis are rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis (OA).
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the immune system responsible for fighting disease mistakenly attacks the lining of joints where two bones connect. The reasons for this response are complex and not fully understood. Rheumatoid arthritis creates inflammation of the joints and usually involves marked deformities and systemic afflictions. Rheumatoid arthritis affects each individual uniquely, with different symptoms, levels of severity, and length of episodes. The disease normally manifests in a symmetrical pattern; for example, if one knee is affected, usually the other will be too. Rheumatoid arthritis most commonly attacks the wrists and fingers but can also affect the entire body. A person with rheumatoid arthritis may feel tired and weak, have no appetite, lose weight, and experience fevers.
Osteoarthritis, also called degenerative joint disease, involves a chronic breakdown of cartilage in the joints, resulting in swelling, pain, and stiffness. This affliction usually occurs during middle age.
The causes and consequences of arthritis are many and varied—and so are its treatments. Current pharmacological treatment often is inadequate and can create detrimental side effects. Alternative treatments like Hydrotherapy might provide more relief in managing these chronic life-long conditions.
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, National Institutes of Health
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS)