When I was a teenager I was a competitive swimmer. Being in water felt a lot more natural to me than being on land!
When I was 15 I subluxed (partially dislocated) my kneecap in the pool. It was then that I was diagnosed with being hypermobile. It was a relatively minor subluxation and since then I’ve only ever subluxed that knee again, once last year.
Despite my joints being very stable and pain free for a hypermobile person, this last injury left me really nervous of my own body. I was frighten to move properly… let alone exercise, in case another joint might do the same thing.
My osteopath suggested that I try hydrotherapy as a way of easing back into exercise and for strengthening my body. At the time I also had an NHS physiotherapist, who I told about this idea. She scoffed and said that ‘hydrotherapy is for decrepit people’. For a start that is a really derogatory word to use…especially coming from someone in her position. It’s shocking. But even if that word was ok to use, she is just plain wrong about hydrotherapy. There are lots of different types of exercises that people can do in the pool, which can be tailored to their abilities and needs.
So, generally hydrotherapy is the use of water in the treatment of different conditions, including arthritis and related rheumatic complaints. Hydrotherapy differs from swimming because it involves special exercises that you do in a warm-water pool. The water temperature is usually 33–36ºC, which is warmer than a typical swimming pool. I actually did mine is a normal temperature pool, as I was ok to take a colder temperature.
You’ll normally have hydrotherapy treatment within a hospital’s physiotherapy department. Usually a physiotherapist or a physiotherapist’s assistant with specialist training will show you how to do the exercises. The focus of the exercises can be adjusted to help your range of movement or strength, depending on your symptoms.
Hydrotherapy tends to be different to aquarobics, which can be quite strenuous, as it’s generally more focused on slow, controlled movements and relaxation.
I’ve decided to compile a list of some of my favourite exercises which I still use to keep fit, a long side swimming, weights and walking.
1. Water walking or jogging: Start with forward and backward walking in chest or waist high water. Walk about 10-20 steps forward, and then walk backward. Increase speed to make it more difficult. Also, increase intensity by jogging gently in place. Alternate jogging for 30 seconds with walking in place for 30 seconds. Continue for 5 minutes. Place you hands on your hips as you do this, to really help practice your balance. It’s hard that it look, and you’ll feel it working your core!
2. Forward and side lunges: Standing near a pool wall for support, if necessary, take an oversized lunge step in a forward direction. Do not let the forward knee advance past the toes. Return to the starting position and repeat with the other leg. For a side lunge, face the pool wall and take an oversized step to the side. Keep toes facing forward. Repeat on the other side. Try 3 sets of 10 lunge steps. For variation, lunge walk in a forward or sideways direction instead of staying in place. I’m useless at lunges on land, so this is great, because it takes the pressure on the knees.
3. One leg balance: Stand on 1 leg while raising the other knee to hip level. Place a pool noodle under the raised leg, so the noodle forms a “U” with your foot in the center of the U. Hold as long as you can up to 30 seconds and switch legs. Try 1-2 sets of 5 on each leg.
4. Sidestepping Face the pool wall. Take sideways steps with your body and toes facing the wall. Take 10-20 steps in 1 direction and then return. Repeat twice in each direction.
5. Push ups: While standing in the pool by the pool side, place arms shoulder width apart on pool edge. Press weight through your hands and raise your body up and half way out of the water, keeping elbows slightly bent. Hold 3 seconds and slowly lower back into pool. (Easier variation: Wall push up on side of pool: place hands on edge of pool shoulder width apart, bend elbows, and lean chest toward the pool wall.)
6. Standing knee lift: Stand against the pool wall with both feet on the floor. Lift 1 knee up like you are marching in place. While the knee is lifted even with your hip, straighten your knee. Continue to bend and straighten your knee 10 times, and then repeat on the other leg. Complete 3 sets of 10 on each leg. For more of a challenge, try this exercise without standing against the pool wall.
7. Corner Pool Kick ups: Rest against the corner of the pool leaning back on your arms, which are resting on the edges of the corner. Kick your legs up one at a time, reaching as high as possible. I really feel this one working my my uppers legs!
I am fairly fit now, and swim regularly but I still start with these exercises. I feel the difference in my balance and strength from doing them, and they gave me the confidence to start swimming again and try the exercises out on land. It is also a lovely and relaxing way to wind down and clear your mind. I also find, if the water is warm, it can help with loosening muscles and easing aches.
If you are physically able to do some form of water exercise, it really is very beneficially. You can work the muscles, without putting the impact on the joint that you would in the gym.
It’s just a shame that for people with severe mobility issues, the specialist equipment and sessions are not readily available on the NHS. The sessions I attended for my level were £50 for 40 mins, which REALLY adds up. Hopefully as chronic conditions are better understood, alternative pain treatments such as hydrotherapy will be more available.