Aquatic Exercise for People with Arthritis

Regular exercise is an important part of improving and maintaining your health. However, for people who have arthritis, regular exercise may not only be painfully difficult, but nearly impossible.


Arthritis is a general term used to describe inflammation of the joints. This disease causes the joints to ache, stiffen, weaken, and swell. Everyday activities, such as using your hands, walking, going up and down stairs, and standing up from a seated position may be difficult. Your doctor may prescribe a treatment plan comprising medication, rest, proper diet, stress relief, and exercise. Proper exercise helps to keep joints mobile, keep muscles strong, regain lost motion and strength, make daily activities easier, and improve general physical and mental fitness. However, if activities, such as walking in the park or participating in aerobics classes are too painful, you may be able to exercise in a warm-water pool.


Exercising in warm water has many benefits. The warm temperature of many therapeutic pools (95° to 98° F) increases blood flow to muscles, which helps the muscles relax. As your muscles relax, you will be able to exercise more comfortably. The buoyancy (what causes you to float) helps support the arms as you slowly move them through the water in an almost effortless fashion. Buoyancy also greatly decreases the amount of body weight placed on the back, hips, knees and feet. When you stand in waist-deep water, only 50% of your body weight is put on the lower part of your body; in neck-deep water, only 10%. Therefore, walking and leg exercises may be done with little or no weight on the painful joints of your lower body.


Water is 600 to 700 times more resistive than air. The even distribution of water's resistance affords a safe means to exercise to gain strength without soreness or risk of serious injury to arthritic joints. Strengthening and range of motion exercises performed in a warm pool are less painful and safer than other forms of exercise.


Many rehabilitation and community facilities offer organized aquatic arthritis programs. These exercise programs offer a support-group atmosphere that fosters increased self-esteem, socialization, and emotional well-being. People who exercise regularly look and feel better. Many times, the group activity will encourage you to continue exercise on a regular basis.


But I can't swim.


If you are involved in a supervised exercise program, you don't have to know how to swim. Swimming is not the only form of exercise you can do in the water. An aquatic arthritis exercise program can include exercises, such as gentle range of motion; gentle strengthening; and cardiovascular activities, such as walking laps.


Before you begin any exercise program, talk with your doctor. This consultation is especially important if you have severe cardiovascular disease, a history of seizures, uncontrolled high or low blood pressure, severe respiratory problems, or allergies to chlorine or bromine. Together, you and your doctor can create the best program for you.


Don't forget that rest and proper hydration are important parts of an aquatic exercise program. A general guideline to follow is to drink a glass of water before and after exercising in a warm pool. Including regular aquatic exercise can be a very important part of the treatment of all types of arthritis. Exercise will help you maintain or improve your quality of life and sense of well-being. The warmth and comfort of the water will keep you coming back for more.


Dana Bridges P.T., A.T.,C.


Columbus, Georgia