For centuries, mankind has been fascinated with the healing properties of water. Whether it’s a quick dip into the Dead Sea, or a pilgrimage to Lourdes to drink from its stream of living water, there is no denying our fascination with the aqua pura. But up to this point, evidence of its use in post-stroke therapy has been scant. It’s based more on hearsay than science. However, thanks to a group of researchers in Greece, we now have evidence. When it comes to stroke rehabilitation, hydrotherapy, or water therapy, might be just what your doctor ordered. We’re talking aquatic therapy — hydrokinesiotherapy, to be precise.
Hydrokinesiotherapy is a form of physical therapy that uses water to provide both stability and resistance. Such therapy takes place in a special pool. It’s warm and relaxing with no pain at all. You don’t even need to know how to swim. Typically a therapist and buoy support the body. A qualified therapist guides the sessions that last around one hour. While well received by patients, studies have failed to show conclusive evidence of benefit in patients suffering from post-stroke balance and posture problems. At an estimated $100 per session, this lack of evidence could affect coverage by insurers.
Review of water therapy studies
The researchers took it upon themselves to determine the value of hydrokinesiotherapy in post-stroke balance and posture rehabilitation. They reviewed 11 studies of more than 300 patients with one question in mind. Does hydrokinesiotherapy offer any real benefits over conventional therapy? The studies compared numerous approaches to hydrokinesiotherapy, including Ai Chi (a kind of aquatic Tai Chi), Aqua Running, Burdenko Method (a more athletic approach), and Watsu (an aquatic combination of massage and dance).
This video shows basic sequences of Watsu.
Results were positive, with all approaches to aquatic therapy showing greater improvements in balance and posture than conventional therapy. This is the first study to conclude that hydrotherapy is superior to land-based therapy, so further studies are warranted.
If you’d like to find out more, talk with your doctor. They will be able to advise you on the program of aquatic therapy that best suits your needs.
The lead author of this study is Dr. Iatridou of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Faculty of Medicine, University of Ioannina, Ioannina, Greece.