Is Hydrotherapy Good for Arthritis Pain?

Man, joint pain and elbow arthritis in outdoor closeup in summer sunshine with massage arms. Broken arm, bone and guy at urban park in metro, city or town with physical therapy with hands in zoom

Hydrotherapy, spa therapy which involves exercises and treatments performed in water, can be beneficial for individuals with arthritis. There are various forms of hydrotherapy that can help the different types of arthritic pain.

This article will look at how hydrotherapy treatment is good for arthritic pain.

  • Types of Arthritis that can Benefit from Hydrotherapy
  • Why Hydrotherapy may be Good for Arthritis
  • Types of Hydrotherapy that can Help Arthritis
  • Hydrotherapy and Randomised Controlled Trials

Types of Arthritis That Benefit from Hydrotherapy


This is the most common form of arthritis, typically caused by wear and tear on the joints over time. Hydrotherapy can help relieve pain, improve joint mobility, and strengthen the muscles surrounding the affected joints.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

This is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in the joints. Hydrotherapy can be beneficial for people with rheumatoid arthritis by reducing joint swelling, relieving pain, and improving joint function.

Psoriatic Arthritis

This type of arthritis occurs in individuals with psoriasis, a skin condition. Hydrotherapy can be useful in managing symptoms such as joint pain, stiffness, and reduced range of motion.

Ankylosing Spondylitis

This is a chronic inflammatory condition that primarily affects the spine and sacroiliac joints. Hydrotherapy exercises can help improve posture, mobility muscle strength, and flexibility, as well as reduce pain and stiffness.

Juvenile Arthritis

This term refers to various types of arthritis that develop in children and adolescents. Hydrotherapy can be a safe and effective option for managing pain, improving joint function, and promoting overall well-being in young individuals with arthritis.

Why Hydrotherapy May be Good for Arthritis

Pain Relief

The buoyancy of water reduces the pressure on joints, which can help alleviate pain associated with arthritis. Water’s natural resistance also provides gentle exercise without causing excessive strain on the joints. This buoyancy effect allows for easier movement and exercise without the full weight-bearing impact experienced on land.

Improved Range of Motion

The warmth of the water used in hydrotherapy can help relax muscles and increase joint flexibility. Gentle movements in water can improve range of motion and help maintain joint function. The use of warm, water therapy helps relax muscles, increase blood circulation, and soothe aching joints.

Reduced Inflammation

Immersion in warm water can promote vasodilation, increasing blood flow to the affected joints. This increased circulation may help reduce inflammation and promote healing.

Water exerts a gentle pressure on the body, which can help reduce swelling and inflammation in the joints. This hydrostatic pressure can promote improved blood flow, decrease fluid accumulation, and alleviate pain associated with conditions like arthritis.

Muscle Strengthening

Hydrotherapy exercises can help strengthen the muscles surrounding the joints, providing better support and stability. Stronger muscles can alleviate stress on the joints and reduce pain.

Water provides natural resistance to movement, making hydrotherapy exercises effective for strengthening muscles and improving joint stability. Stronger muscles around the joints can help reduce stress on the joints, enhance support, and alleviate pain.

Relaxation and Stress Relief

The soothing properties of water can induce relaxation and relieve stress less pain, which can be beneficial for individuals with arthritis who may experience increased pain due to stress or tension.

However, it’s important to note that hydrotherapy may not be suitable for everyone with arthritis. It’s always recommended to consult with a healthcare professional, such as a rheumatologist or physical therapist, before starting any new exercise or treatment regimen. They can assess your specific condition and determine if hydrotherapy is a suitable option for you.

Types of Hydrotherapy that Help Arthritis

There are several types of hydrotherapy techniques that can help with arthritis management. Here are some common ones:

Warm Water Immersion

This involves soaking in warm water, typically in a pool or hot tub. The warmth of spa water helps relax muscles, increase blood flow, reduce joint stiffness, and alleviate pain. It’s important to maintain the water temperature at a comfortable level, usually between 92°F (33°C) and 100°F (38°C).

Water Aerobics in Local Swimming Pool

Water aerobics classes involve performing exercises and movements in a pool. Most local swimming pools offer classes with a fitness instructor or under one of their exercise programs. The buoyancy of the water reduces the impact on joints, making it easier to move and exercise without excessive strain. Water aerobics can help improve cardiovascular fitness, strengthen muscles, and increase joint range of motion.

Water aerobics classes involve various exercises and movements performed in shallow or deep water. These classes are typically led by an instructor and may include activities and physical activity like jogging, jumping jacks, leg kicks, arm movements, and more. Water aerobics can provide a full-body workout, improve cardiovascular fitness, and strengthen muscles without excessive joint stress.

Hydrotherapy Exercises and Aquatic Therapy

Specific, strengthening exercises can be performed in water to target affected joints and improve strength, flexibility, and range of motion. These exercises are usually guided by a physical therapist or hydrotherapy specialist who tailors the program to your specific needs and abilities.

Walking in water is a simple and effective exercise. The buoyancy of water reduces the impact on joints, making it easier to move without straining the body. Walking forwards, backwards, sideways, or in circles can help strengthen leg muscles, improve cardiovascular fitness, and enhance joint mobility.

Leg Swings are also beneficial. Standing near the swimming pool side edge and holding onto it for support, swing one leg forward and backward while keeping the other leg grounded. This exercise can help improve hip mobility, strengthen leg muscles, and enhance balance.

Gentle movements and stretches can be performed in water to improve joint range of motion. These exercises can help maintain or increase joint flexibility and reduce stiffness. Examples of controlled movements include shoulder circles, knee bends, ankle rotations, and wrist and finger movements.

Aquatic Treadmill

This aquatic therapy is a submerged treadmill that allows you to walk or run in water while the water’s buoyancy supports your body weight. Aquatic treadmill therapy can help improve cardiovascular fitness, strengthen muscles, and provide a low-impact workout for arthritis patients.

Contrast Hydrotherapy, and Spa Therapy

This technique involves alternating between a warm water pool and cold water treatments. The contrast between hot and cold temperatures helps promote circulation and reduce inflammation. However, it’s important to avoid extreme temperature changes and seek guidance from a healthcare professional.

Remember that hydrotherapy techniques should be personalised to your condition and abilities. Working with a healthcare professional, such as a rheumatologist or physical therapist, is crucial to design an appropriate hydrotherapy program that addresses your specific arthritis symptoms and goals. Whether in a typical swimming pool doing a water aerobics class or doing pool therapy after joint replacement surgery, aquatic therapy can improve your aerobic fitness as well as improve your quality of life.

Hydrotherapy and Randomized Controlled Trials

Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are considered the gold standard in clinical research for evaluating the effectiveness and safety of medical interventions, including hydrotherapy. RCTs involve randomly assigning participants to different treatment groups, allowing for comparison and analysis of outcomes between the groups. While hydrotherapy has been studied in the context of various health conditions, including arthritis, chronic pain, and rehabilitation, the availability of RCTs specifically focusing on hydrotherapy may vary depending on the condition of interest.

RCTs examining the effectiveness of hydrotherapy often compare it with other treatment modalities or control groups, such as usual care, exercise on land, or no treatment. These trials typically assess outcomes such as pain levels, joint function, range of motion, quality of life, and adverse events. By utilising randomisation and rigorous study design, RCTs help researchers draw conclusions about the efficacy and safety of hydrotherapy interventions.

It’s worth noting that while RCTs provide valuable evidence, the availability and quality of RCTs on hydrotherapy may vary depending on the specific condition and research focus. Additionally, the interpretation of RCT results should consider factors such as sample size, study duration, participant characteristics, and adherence to the hydrotherapy protocol.

When exploring the effectiveness of hydrotherapy pools for a particular health condition, it’s advisable to review the existing literature, including systematic reviews and meta-analyses, which summarise the findings from multiple RCTs. Consulting with healthcare professionals, such as rheumatologists, physical therapists, or hydrotherapy specialists, can also provide insights based on their clinical experience and knowledge of the available research.

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