Aquatic Therapy: Faster Recovery for Total Hip Replacements
By John R. Mishock, PT, DPT, DC, Owner of Mishock Physical Therapy & Associates 03/11/14
There are 120,000 hip replacement surgeries done each year in the United States (NIH). The fastest way to recover from hip replacement surgery is to begin the rehabilitation process as soon as possible. Often, pain levels and healing time impact the ability to start physical therapy. However, aquatic therapy can be the first integral step to recovery. Aquatic therapy uses the physical properties of water to assist the patient in healing and exercise performance. Fortunately, the pain associated with hip replacement surgery can be decreased or eliminated in water due to decreased weight bearing on the recovering hip and the warm, soothing water.
One benefit of aquatic therapy is the buoyancy provided by the water. While submerged in water, buoyancy assists in supporting the weight of the patient. This decreases the amount of weight bearing forces on the recovering hip. By decreasing the amount of joint stress it is easier and less painful to perform basic beginning exercises. Often there is no pain while in the water due to the buoyancy effect.
The viscosity of water also provides an excellent source of resistance that can be easily incorporated into an aquatic therapy exercise program. This resistance allows for muscle strengthening without the need of weights. This kind of strengthening reduces stresses on the muscles protecting the healing hip. Using resistance coupled with the water’s buoyancy allows a person to strengthen muscle groups with decreased joint stress that cannot be experienced on land alone.
Aquatic therapy also utilizes hydrostatic pressure in decreasing joint and soft tissue swelling that is resultant from the hip surgery. This reduction in swelling reduces pain by decreasing pressure on soft tissue and nerves.
Lastly, the warmth of the water experienced during aquatic therapy assists in relaxing muscles and opening blood vessels, increasing blood flow to healing hip. The increased blood flow brings in new oxygen and nutrients, which helps expedite the healing time.