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Hydrotherapy is a complimentary therapy use to aid recovery, continued mobility, strength and fitness in humans and animals. Humans and animals can swim, use hydrotherapy in conjunction with an underwater treadmill or simply benefit from the emersion in water (Balneotherapy). Hydrotherapy uses water as both a buoyancy aid and the viscosity to produce a resistant friction force against motion. While the buoyancy decreases loading on limbs and joints, the increased resistance also causes muscles to work harder to produce motion and therefore hydrotherapy acts to strengthen and tone muscle. The use of hydrotherapy can also increase joint mobility, increase the function of the cardiovascular system, aid in pain relief and be beneficial for exercise and enjoyment. Water can be used at varying temperatures and can have minerals (salt) added to it depending on use.
WHERE DID IT COME FROM?
First documented by Hippocrates at around 500 B.C, and with references to its use throughout the Egyptian, Persian, Greek and Roman Civilisations¹, hydrotherapy has long been known as widely beneficial for a variety of health and medical problems. Over 2500 years it has been developed and refined for use in other species as well as humans and has become widely recognised by doctors and veterinarians for its medicinal properties.
One of the most commonly known civilisations in history to use hydrotherapy were the Romans. With public spas used daily to improve health and wellbeing, a more formal use of bathing in spring water was developed to help ‘cure’ conditions such as osteoarthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and restricted mobility in elderly patients². Although these were commonly passive bathing therapies in thermal and mineral waters (balneotherapy), the reduced loading and pain relief provided by the immersion would have allowed bathers to move around more readily, indirectly increasing strength and mobility.
During the 18th Century, the use of and term, hydrotherapy (sometimes also known as aquatic therapy, aquatic exercise and water therapy) began to be formalised² and usually involved an active therapy where a patient’s body was emerged to a depth of total submersion (complete non-load bearing) and encouraged to move and swim.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, hydrotherapy as a complimentary therapy became more widely known and since then, more positive human trials have taken place, particularly in patients who experience pain, arthritis and mobility difficulties. It is stated that the benefits are possibly due to the buoyancy reducing the load bearing effect of gravity², and therefore decreased compression on compromised limbs and joints. Hydrotherapy in humans continues to be a widely recognised and useful tool in active therapeutic rehabilitation as well as an enjoyable and emotionally beneficial exercise².
Originally introduced with horses within the racing industry, the benefits of immersion in sea water for the treatment and prevention of leg injuries has been known for centuries³. With its popularity increasing during the nineteenth century, active therapies, including swimming and underwater treadmill work are now used commonly, both for fitness (generally in racing and competition animals), and as part of rehabilitation therapies following injury or disease. In the case of hydrotherapy in conjunction with underwater treadmills, partial submersion produces a decreased load bearing on limbs, while the viscosity of the water increases the amount of work required by the muscle and so is beneficial on two fronts. Purpose built ‘Hydrospas’ for passive therapies are also popular and utilise the properties of cold salt water for increasing circulation, reducing swelling, and improving mobility.
As a therapeutic exercise for small animals including canines, hydrotherapy was originally used in greyhound racing after they recognised the benefits to racehorses, however it was not long before the industry saw the potential medical benefits and extended its use to dogs in general³. The natural environment was originally used including lakes and rivers. However, as a dog is generally smaller, it has a higher surface area to mass ratio, as a result it can find it more difficult to maintain a sufficient body temperature in cool waters; as body temperature lowers, blood moves away from the limbs towards the essential internal organs², therefore leaving the limbs with insufficient circulation. This can result in an increased propensity to injury. Because of this, dogs are usually swum in water heated to 26-30 ̊C². Hydrotherapy can allow some movements in dogs which would otherwise be impossible due to injury or disease. While relieving the pressure on the muscular-skeletal system, it also provides constant stimulation to the extrasensory system forcing the animal to use its body just to maintain its position in the water. Combined with the relaxing and pain relieving heat and the resistant properties of the water, both swimming and underwater treadmill work are proving themselves invaluable in the therapeutic rehabilitation of canines. Undoubtedly as the hydrotherapy industry progresses, research will uncover more benefits and uses, both in the species listed here but also in extending its use to an increasing range of other species of animals.
¹ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrotherapy [Accessed 08.04.2013]
²Wong. E, Swim To Recovery Canine Hydrotherapy Healing, Hubble & Hattie, 2011
³ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canine_Hydrotherapy [Accessed 08.04.2013]
Rivière. S, Physiotherapy for cats and dogs applied to locomotor disorders of arthritic origin, Veterinary Focus Vol 17 No3 (IVIS), 2007
Highly recommend Helen. She is very knowledgeable and has great empathy with ther "patients" I think it's fair to say that my Eddie isn't an enthusiastic swimmer but Helen is very patient and never pushes them. My labrador is the opposite but Helen deals with him as just as well. The pool is large, airy and clean. There is a shower that Helen uses both before and after the session so the dogs don't run any risk of cross contamination. The time allocated for each session is an hour so there is no rush.