Performing physical therapy in the water can be beneficial for a variety of individuals with neuromuscular or musculoskeletal disorders. Aquatic therapy differs from land therapy due to the specific properties of water. These unique properties decrease joint compression forces, may reduce inflammation and provide feedback for improving posture. The resistance of the water during therapy provides a safe environment for addressing balance, strength, and postural deficits. For those patients who may have difficulty exercising on land, aquatic therapy provides a comfortable and therapeutic medium in which to gain strength and endurance.

Who is aquatic rehabilitation for?

Many musculoskeletal and neurological conditions may benefit from aquatic therapy including, but not limited to:

  • Orthopaedic disorders.
  • Post surgical cases.
  • Sports rehabilitation.
  • Arthritis.
  • Impaired balance disorders.
  • Back pain.
  • Chronic pain.

Aquatic therapy may not be suggested for such diagnoses as:

  • Incontinence.
  • Seizure disorders.
  • Open wounds or non-healing ulcers.
  • Chlorine allergy.
  • Extreme fear of water.

What does aquatic rehabilitation involve?

At Cleveland Clinic Rehabilitation and Sports Therapy sites, the initial physical therapy evaluation takes place in the physical therapy gym where the patient is evaluated and treatment goals and plan of care are established. If pool therapy is indicated, the therapist will recommend follow up physical therapy sessions in the water. It is not necessary for patients to know how to swim before initiating an aquatic therapy program. A physical therapist or physical therapist assistant directs each treatment session. Access to the pool may be by either stairs, ladder or ramp depending on location. Cleveland Clinic provides access to lockers at most aquatic sites.

We suggest that patients consider bringing:

  • Swimsuit (required).
  • A lock for their personal items.
  • A cover-up or towel.
  • Water shoes to protect their feet in the pool area.
  • Plastic bottle with drinking water to maintain hydration.

For those patients that require assistance with dressing, showering or walking the hallway from the locker room to the pool, we ask that a caregiver be present during each treatment session.

How long will aquatic rehabilitation take?

Aquatic therapy treatment sessions are approximately 30-45 minutes long and specifically tailored to meet each patient’s individual needs. The aquatic treatment plan is coordinated with a land-based physical therapy plan and varies based on patient diagnosis. Once the patient's aquatic goals are achieved the program progresses to land-based focus as needed.