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The power of water

Flourish 24 Sep 2016

The ancient Romans were onto something when they discovered the health benefits of warm water.

A group of women enjoying a hydrotherapy session
There are very few people who wouldn't benefit from hydrotherapy.

Six months after starting a hydrotherapy program, belly-dancing teacher Rita Fisher no longer relies on a wheelchair for mobility and proudly walks with a single crutch. 

Rita, who lives in Tamworth, New South Wales, was hospitalised for a month following a knee replacement. Rita says many people who have single or double-knee replacements are up and walking within a week, but she remained immobile after returning home. 

Rita began her hydrotherapy rehabilitation program with one-and-a-half to two hours of hydrotherapy, followed by gym work, twice a week. In 12 weeks, she graduated from the wheelchair to a walker. Now, six months later, she is supported only by that single crutch. 

Rita, 45, says she loves being able to walk normally and is even able to rehearse choreography for her dance troupe in the pool. “People must have thought I was mad, but it was such a relief to be able to move freely,” she says. 

Rita says hydrotherapy was the highlight of her rehabilitation. She still walks with a limp, but does aqua aerobics twice a week because she is hooked on the supportive benefits of water. 

The supportive properties of the 34 ̊C water are critical, says Marion Adeney-Steel, a physiotherapist for Remedy Healthcare at Australian Unity’s Rathdowne Place wellbeing precinct in Carlton in Victoria. 

Marion has used hydrotherapy with her clients for many years and is a well-versed advocate for its benefits. She says the water temperature relaxes muscles, provides pain relief and aids relaxation. The buoyancy removes the fear of falling and increases confidence to move. 

The resistance of the water allows weakened or post-surgical muscles to regain strength, she says. 

Marion has assisted people confined to wheelchairs with muscle-wasting conditions to walk again when in the pool and seen stroke survivors, people with MS, Parkinson’s disease and many other conditions regain the confidence to move freely. 

“I have people of all ages and abilities benefiting and enjoying regular group or individual sessions. There are very few people who wouldn’t benefit from hydrotherapy following a careful assessment and tailored program,” Marion says. 

“There’s a reason you always see footballers in the pool or the sea after a match. Hydrotherapy is a great way to get muscle recovery after an event. 

“Part of what we do here is try to extend the life of a joint in order to delay joint replacement surgery or maximise your recovery. We have a class called Hips and Shoulders, Knees and Toes that is designed for this purpose,” Marion says. 

It’s safe to start hydrotherapy three to four weeks after surgery, once the wound is fully healed. 

So, what actually happens when you’re in the water? Marion says there is a range of exercises for flexibility, strength, endurance and balance using specially designed exercise equipment. 

Water resistance is not only great for cardiovascular health, but also core and leg strength, which are essential for good balance. 

Australian Unity’s Rathdowne Place wellbeing precinct is at 497 Rathdowne Street in Carlton, Victoria. 

words Emma Castle photos Mark Munro

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