Treating Chronic Pain with Water Therapy

Chronic Pain: Why Water?

By Sarah Chattin

There is the wonderful and positive attitude that is instilled in the over 50 generation that says, “Mind over matter, pick yourself up and keep going.”  So, what happens when your pain keeps you from doing just that?  You may have always been the kind of person who kept going — had to keep going — after all there were mouths to feed, bills to pay, and things that had to be done.  You may still be working toward that retirement and you certainly don’t want to spend it sitting around feeling awful.  What happens when your body doesn’t cooperate with the dream you had for your later years?  What happens when you can just barely get out of bed and have to stand there for 5 minutes before you can move?  What happens when getting up from that chair is torture and what used to be an occasional ache is now….always….there?

Chronic pain is defined as any pain that last over 6 months.  It affects over 86 million Americans and can include headaches, joint pain or arthritis, pain from injury, nerve pain, and the list continues.  If it hurts, it affects you.  The difficult thing about pain that goes on for an extended amount of time is that it does not just affect that one area of your body.  It begins to take its toll over time and becomes impossible to ignore.  The limp that the hip pain causes affects your back and your other knee.  The effort it takes to get up and walk or be on your feet for an extended amount of time affects your willingness to go to the store with your daughter or go to a wedding reception for your nephew.  Knowing that walking up the bleachers and sitting for a couple of hours on a hard surface will make you refuse to go to a game you would not have missed ten years ago.  You begin to disengage, your friends have to wait on you, and you feel the frustration of it.  You unknowingly have that look on your face that makes people say, “Are you Okay?”  Most people, even those with the best of attitudes, will begin to experience at least some amount of anxiety about things that increase their pain and depression begins to creep in.  The reality that you can no longer enjoy your former quality of life becomes apparent and anger, fatigue, irritability, and hopelessness become an unwelcome partner to your pain.

There is hope.  First and foremost, you should always see your doctor when you have pain that persist for an extended amount of time.  Treatment can range from medication to surgery and your doctor will be able to help you understand what is causing your pain.  However, not everyone wants to take a pill or have invasive surgery.  For some, they have tried those things without the relief they had hoped for. Research shows that despite our reluctance to move when we are in pain, exercise and activity reduce chronic pain symptoms and specifically that exercise in warm water is very beneficial.  Aquatic therapy is a wonderful place to start.  Your physical therapist will be able to guide you through safe and beneficial exercises supported by water.   With decreased weight bearing through painful joints you will be able to move more freely without pain.  The resistance of the water as you move improves your overall strength even if all you do is walk.  At times your pain is localized, but the weakness that has set in from decreasing your activity level is global.  Water is a step toward improved strength and mobility.  The goal is always to feel better and have a better quality of life.  The challenge is not to just move on and keep going with your pain, but to get moving and go beyond the pain.

McIlveen, B., & Robertson, V. (1998). A randomized controlled study of the outcome of hydrotherapy for subjects with low back or low back and leg pain. Physiotherapy, 84(1), 17-26.

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