Hydrotherapy Eases Osteoarthritis
Water and Land-Based Exercise Programs Improve Mobility
WebMD News Archive
Nov. 24, 2003 -- Whether it's on land or in the water,
resistance exercise can help people with osteoarthritis build strength and
improve their mobility.
A new study shows that both water-based (hydrotherapy) and
traditional gym exercise programs can increase muscle strength and help people
with osteoarthritis of the knee or hip walk faster and longer, which may reduce
the risk of falls and disability.
In addition, the findings suggest that people with
osteoarthritis may benefit from more intense exercise than currently
The results appear in the November issue of the Annals of
Exercise Builds Strength
Researchers compared the effects of a six-week hydrotherapy or
regular gym exercise program vs. no exercise at all in a group of about 100
people with osteoarthritis of the knee or hip.
Both of the exercise programs focused on resistance exercises
designed to build muscle strength around the affected joint, and participants
worked out three times a week either in the pool or in the gym.
Researchers found both exercise programs provided valuable
benefits in improving physical function. Walking speed and distance improved
significantly in both exercise groups compared with the non-exercisers.
The gym exercise program was slightly better at improving
muscle strength. For example, the gym group also showed significant improvement
in thigh muscle strength in both legs, but the hydrotherapy group only had
improved strength in one leg.
Researchers say that because of the nature of hydrotherapy, the
exercise intensity was not as high in the water-based group compared with the
gym-based group, which might explain the differences in muscle strength.
Hydrotherapy May Offer Other Benefits
But one advantage of hydrotherapy is that it increases
cardiovascular fitness and allows people with osteoarthritis to exercise to a
greater degree of intensity without the harm that they would experience with a
gym-based program. This may be especially important for people with severe
forms of the disease.
"Patients with severe OA who find it painful to weight bear
for extended periods may find that water provides the appropriate environment
in which they can exercise at intensities that may confer significant health
benefits," write researcher A. Foley of Flinders University Department of
Rehabilitation and Aged Care in South Australia and colleagues.
Researchers also say that the intensity, volume, and frequency
of exercise in the study were considerably higher than those recommended by the
American Geriatrics Society for strength training in people with
osteoarthritis. These findings suggest that higher intensity exercise may
safely be prescribed for people with this potentially disabling disease.