Aquatherapy: Swimming For Physiotherapy

26. June 2023

aquatherapy: swimming for physiotherapy

Swimming is widely recognised as one of the most effective forms of exercise, providing a full body workout and being great for cardiovascular fitness.

But did you know that swimming is also a form of physiotherapy? Aquatherapy is the ‘catch all’ term that refers to any activity that is performed in water to
assist in the recovery and rehabilitation of injuries.

Swimming fits under this umbrella, as does aquatic therapy and hydrotherapy. In this article, we’ll run through some of the different types of aquatherapy and outline how
they can be useful for physiotherapy.


As part of your individualised treatment plan, your physiotherapist might recommend the benefits of swimming as part of your rehabilitation.

When you swim, you elongate and stretch your muscles which can be beneficial in the recovery process as it relaxes your body, increases flexibility, and improves circulation.

Another thing that makes swimming for physiotherapy such an effective treatment option is the buoyancy of water, which supports your body weight.

This buoyancy means there is minimal stress placed on your joints and muscles when you’re swimming, making it the ideal exercise for patients recovering from minor musculoskeletal injuries or those who have a condition like arthritis or fibromyalgia that makes it painful to
exercise on dry land.

Swimming for physiotherapy has been proven to be particularly beneficial if you’re suffering from lower back pain. A study published by the International Journal Of Advanced Research found that swimming can not only reduce lower back pain but also increase the range of
motion and function of patients.

However, it's important to be careful. If you swim with a poor technique, or with a stroke that puts additional pressure on your back - it can actually aggravate rather than improve your back problems.

It’s recommended that you consult with your physiotherapist before starting swimming for physiotherapy to understand which strokes and frequency of exercise they’d recommend.

Aquatic Therapy

Your GP or physiotherapist may advise that swimming is too strenuous an activity at this stage of your recovery, or swimming for physiotherapy might not be the right option for you if you’re not confident in the water.

If this is the case, an alternative form of aquatherapy that you might consider is aquatic therapy, which involves performing gentle exercises in a warm-water pool, often with the supervision of a licensed physical therapist.

The water used in aquatic therapy is typically warmer than you’d find in a regular swimming pool - often around 33-36 degrees, which can help to relax muscles and stimulate blood flow.

Your physical therapist will guide you through some gentle exercises in the water, which will be specifically tailored to your condition and may include the use of equipment like floatation devices, pool noodles, or even light dumbbells.

Some common aquatic therapy exercises you might be introduced to include water walking, leg lifts, and gentle stretches.

A lot of conditions can benefit from aquatic therapy, and it might be suitable for you if you’re suffering from:

  • Arthritis
  • Sciatica
  • Scoliosis
  • Tendonitis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Joint problems
  • Lower back pain
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Sprains or strains
  • Spinal cord injuries

There’s also research that demonstrates that aquatic therapy can be beneficial for patients suffering from high blood pressure, heart disease, and asthma.

Reported benefits of aquatic therapies include:

  • Improved strength and endurance
  • Improved range of motion
  • Increased flexibility
  • Improved function
  • Relief from pain


Depending on your condition, another form of aquatherapy that your GP or physiotherapist might recommend is hydrotherapy.

Hydrotherapy is quite a broad term that refers to the use of water to aid in treatment and recovery. Some examples include:

Hot water treatments

This hydrotherapy practice involves the use of hot water baths, hot tubs, or hot showers to
help relax muscles, improve circulation and relieve pain.

Cold water treatments

Cold water is often used in hydrotherapy to reduce inflammation or numb pain, cold water
treatments might include cold compresses, ice packs, or cold water immersion.

Whirlpool therapy

The jets in whirlpool therapy can produce a massage-like effect that can help improve
circulation, relax muscles, and relieve tension.

Steam baths and saunas

The moist heat of a steam bath or sauna can relax muscles and improve circulation, which
can make it an effective hydrotherapy treatment for many muscular conditions. It’s also great
for treating joint pain and arthritis.

Is aquatherapy right for you?

It’s worth noting that aquatherapy isn’t the right course of treatment for everybody.

Make sure you discuss the treatment options fully with your GP or physiotherapist, and make
them aware if you’re suffering from any pre-existing medical conditions, particularly:

A fever

If you’re suffering from a fever that has already increased your temperature, it’s generally advised to avoid any kind of physical activity that might increase your temperature further. This includes swimming or any warm-pool exercises.

Open sores or wounds

The water in swimming pools, warm-pools, steam baths, and whirlpools may contain bacteria that pose a risk of infection if you have open sores or wounds

A chlorine allergy

A lot of swimming pools use chlorine as a way to kill germs and reduce the risk of infection. The majority of people have no ill effects from this, but if you have a sensitivity to chlorine it could trigger an allergic reaction.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

If you suffer from COPD, the humidity of some aquatherapy treatments may put additional strain on your respiratory system - so they often aren’t recommended.

Get in touch with CK Physiotherapy

If you’re curious about the benefits of swimming for physiotherapy and other aquatherapy solutions, it’s important to talk it through with your GP or a licensed physiotherapist first.

At CK Physiotherapy we have a team of specialist, licensed physiotherapists in the Ealing area who can make sure you’re taking the right steps towards your rehabilitation goals.

If you’re currently recovering from injury or are struggling with an ongoing source of pain or discomfort, we’re here to help.

Just get in touch to book an initial consultation and one of our specialists will review your condition and produce an individualised treatment plan.


Aquatic Therapy Guide. Retrieved from

Aquatic Therapy Hydrotherapy. Retrieved from

Aquatic Exercises. Retrieved from

8 Benefits of Swimming. Retrieved from

Benefits of Swimming. Retrieved from

Aquatic Therapy. Retrieved from

Effect of Swimming as a Hydrotherapeutic Intervention for the Management of Chronic Non-Specific Low Back Pain. Retrieved from

Hydrotherapy. Retrieved from

Benefits of Aquatic Exercise on Heart Health. Retrieved from

Aqua Therapy for Asthma. Retrieved from

Cold Water Therapy. Retrieved from

Saunas in Physical Therapy Routines. Retrieved from

Whirlpool Use in Physical Therapy. Retrieved from

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