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To relieve back pain, turn to the pool

Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital July 5, 2017 Sports and Fitness

“Eighty to 85 percent of people, regardless of age, will experience back pain at some point in their lifetime,” says Morgan Ferrante, MS, CTRS, ATRIC, aquatic therapy coordinator at Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital, part of Main Line Health. “In fact, back pain is the most frequent cause of limited activity. It’s difficult for most people to understand that exercise actually helps to manage back pain or possibly banish it completely.”

Common causes of back pain include accidents and trauma, arthritis, osteoporosis, stress and tension, overuse, poor physical conditioning, being overweight, and quite often, using incorrect body mechanics. For patients suffering with back pain, physical rehabilitation or even simple exercises on land often create even more pain. Aqua therapy can provide a highly effective alternative.

“With every footfall on land, the legs and back bear two to five times a person’s body weight,” explains Ferrante. “So, performing resistance exercises on land might cause a lot of pain and put too much pressure on your joints. The buoyant support of water cancels out 90 percent of a person’s weight when they are submerged at neck level. So, if you weigh 150 pounds, that equates to only 15 pounds when you’re submerged in water. You can move much more fluidly, and anything you can do in a traditional gym can be done in a pool.”

The experienced physical therapists at Bryn Mawr Rehab often utilize aqua therapy for rehabilitation, working with patients underwater to improve range of motion, balance, coordination, strength, mobility and cardiovascular health. With multiple entryways into the pool—steps, a ramp, a chair lift and an overhead lift—it’s accessible to everyone.

“Among the biggest benefits of aqua therapy is the ability to practice good alignment and posture that might be painful on land,” says Ferrante. “Practicing in the water allows you to strengthen those muscles and help transition to proper posture on land.”

While the goal may be to transition from aqua therapy to land-based therapy or exercise, many patients continue with water-based exercise after reaching their functional goals. Some choose to use the pool for unstructured, independent exercise, often arriving with a laminated copy of the program prescribed by their physical therapist. Others choose to participate in Bryn Mawr Rehab’s comprehensive maintenance program, which offers a multitude of water-based classes designed to sustain progress. From water walking to yoga to Ai Chi (like Tai Chi but performed in water), and even an actual kayak, there is something for everyone.

“One of the best things about water-based exercise is that it can be a lifelong wellness activity,” says Ferrante. “This is especially important for older patients with arthritis, or patients with a more challenging diagnosis. For people at home who have minor back pain, water-based exercise—using proper form of course—and swimming, depending on the stroke, is great. And you can do it your whole life. So many other sports we age out of.”

Ferrante cautions people to take back pain seriously.

Even when your pain is mild, be your own investigator,” she says. “Find out what’s causing your pain and address it before it gets to the next level. If you just gardened too much yesterday and your back hurts today, that’s typically not a cause for concern. But if back pain is inhibiting your ability to perform daily tasks, you should consult your physician. You may not require extensive physical therapy, you may require just a little. Either way, aqua therapy can provide the right environment to achieve your goals. No one should live with back pain when there is a possible solution.”

If back pain knocks you flat, the experts at Main Line Health can get you back to a pain-free life. To schedule an appointment with a back pain specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.