Healing Waters: The Rise of Hydrotherapy Pools
05 Apr Healing Waters: The Rise of Hydrotherapy Pools
Since the late 1990s, HydroWorx, a highly specialized manufacturer of rehabilitative aquatic environments, has developed systems designed to help people heal. Here, writer Angelique H. Caffrey takes a look at the power and importance of this growing trend with an eye on HydroWorx’ efforts to make water a primary therapeutic venue in both institutional and private settings.
It’s believed human beings first recognized the healing power of aquatic exercise and relaxation sometime prior to the height of the Roman Empire. Yet, ironically in many ways, turning to water as a therapeutic environment is considered something of a new trend in our modern world.
Whether relaxing, recovering, walking or even running underwater, people of all shapes, sizes, ages and abilities can harness the power of water to help themselves physically, psychologically and even socially. As a result, many homeowners and companies are choosing to fit their residences and commercial properties with variable-depth, high-tech, treadmill-and-resistant-jet inclusive private pools whether planning for new construction or renovation.
It’s a trend that hasn’t gone unnoticed among general contractors, architects and engineers who are increasingly asked by eager homeowners, clinicians, sports figures and facility managers to install pools that can heal the human body and mind.
This rising trend in private therapy and fitness pool installations may not be entirely surprising given the vast supply of case studies that support the concept of individuals realizing major benefits from these specialized pools:
• In a study from the University of Idaho, researchers Wafa Alkurdi, et al., determined that minor changes in water depth could significantly influence the cardiorespiratory variables as well as the perceived efforts of those who walked on an aquatic treadmill.
• At the University of Wisconsin, a five-week study followed participants who consistently used an underwater treadmill for aerobic exercise and aquatic resistance training. The results showed subjects felt better physically and psychologically during the five-week period. They also reported decreased joint pain, better quality of sleep and improved flexibility.
• At Texas A&M University, research was conducted on overweight and obese men and women to determine if underwater treadmill exercise training programs would work as an effective training modality. After 12 weeks, participants showed reductions in weight, improvement in body composition and increased aerobic capacity without any dietary interventions.
The study therefore concluded that such aquatic-based programs were viable alternatives to traditional land-based treadmill training for users because of the non-weight-bearing exercise environment.
Notwithstanding these scientific remarks regarding pools with underwater treadmills, the standard, no-frills “backyard pool” is always going to hold a certain level of popularity; yet other pool options make the traditional pool seem almost antiquated by comparison, at least when it comes to opportunities for therapy.
Through the combined use of integrated treadmill floors, variable-speed resistance jets and underwater video cameras, among other features, clinicians and users alike can fine-tune the workout environment in terms of depth speed and current strength, as well as watch and record a patient’s motion. It’s a powerful combination of features that empowers patients to improve their physical condition in a safe and fully-customized therapeutic setting.
As the Boomer generation (roughly 76-79 million in size) has aged, health issues such as osteoarthritis, bursitis, diabetes and obesity have driven them to doctors’ and therapists’ offices looking for remedies beyond pharmaceuticals and other forms of standard treatment. In addition, desiring to look and feel younger as long as they can, Boomer men and women are clamoring for ways to stay active. They’ve discovered aquatic exercise is effective in staving off the onset of many ailments, thus reducing medical expenses and time spent with doctors responding to health issues after the fact.
It may be somewhat of a romantic notion, but more and more people are discovering that aquatic therapy may be the “fountain of youth” that eluded Ponce de Leon.
However you choose to characterize it, there’s little doubt that water has a huge amount of power and influence over the human body. For example, the buoyancy alone of water enables a person’s weight to be approximately 80 percent offset; hence, a 200-pound man feels 40 pounds in water. There’s no pounding on his joints; his legs seem lighter than air; and his movements are unencumbered. He’s therefore able to move in a freer capacity than he might if he were moving on land.
Water also has been scientifically proven to give therapy patients and exercisers a euphoric feeling of rejuvenation after a workout or rehabilitation session. Though their bodies are still getting the physical benefits of movement (e.g., increased heart rate, better flow of oxygen to the blood, muscle building), they are not receiving any of the “negative” outcomes. Consequently, many water-lovers report feeling refreshed even after being in aquatic therapy pools for long periods of time, performing high intensity exercises.
There’s just one snag: Pools that offer the most advantages to users (as in those with treadmills, resistance jets and more) have been typically available only in public areas such as hospitals, clinics and athletic performance and rehab facilities. This has become an unfortunate barrier for those who resist working out or rehabbing in public pools (e.g., persons who are overweight, persons with physical disabilities); who have trouble finding a locally-based pool to use or who have schedules that require great flexibility. Fortunately, with the advent of new technologies, these types of pools have now surfaced for the home user market.
For example, there are now pools like the HydroWorx L-, T- and 1200-series models that have treadmills which boast variable speeds up to 7.5 mph; an underwater treadmill floor that’s low-impact and cushioned, but with excellent traction; multi-user capacities; resistance and swim jets (that can also be used for deep tissue massages) and a remote-controlled adjustable-depth floor.
Having a pool with a treadmill, moveable floor and resistance jets at their fingertips has enabled adults to enjoy the wide benefits of water therapy in privacy across the spectrum of fitness levels. In addition, therapists have become more and more open to traveling to homeowners’ residences to make use of the high-end equipment when it’s available in such a natural, casual, comfortable setting.
Of course, the people investing in high-tech pools with underwater treadmills and resistance jets aren’t only those who require physical therapy. Certainly, the Boomers (as well as younger generations) may be experiencing the natural aches and pains of getting older, but they’re also a fitter population than previous generations. With their communal drive to continue to stay fit, strong and healthy, they are also moving toward home-based pools to achieve their wellness goals.
And they are in good company, too. Elite athletes around the globe – football, soccer, baseball and hockey players – have been using pools with integrated treadmills to get a “leg up” on the competition for many years.
Consider Galen Rupp and Mo Farah, Olympic runners from the United States and Great Britain, respectively, whose coach, Alberto Salazar, used underwater running as a way for them to safely increase their weekly mileage without incurring injuries. Salazar has been incredibly outspoken in his belief that having an underwater treadmill component to complement and supplement his athletes’ training regimes has enabled them to break barriers — and world records. Rupp even has a HydroWorx model at his home so he can conveniently train as needed.
Again, the reasoning behind having this kind of pool at home for the pro or recreational athlete (or just that “weekend warrior”) is similar to the reasoning used by those who want such a pool for purely therapy purposes. Having a way to painlessly exercise at home – especially on those days when the body feels like it’s been put through the proverbial wringer thanks to challenging land-based workouts – is a blessing. The body can still rest and recharge, but is able to get some physical fitness benefit in the process. It’s the perfect marriage of convenience and technology.
Add to that the convenience of being able to stay on one’s property to get the full range of aquatic therapy and exercise benefits that a pool with an integrated treadmill provides, and it’s pretty clear why it’s gaining steam.
A FUTURE TREND
Though it might seem early to make the prediction, evidence seems to indicate that pools with integrated treadmills for residence and commercial use are trending as the “wave of the future.” After all, they take the best of all worlds and package them in a way that provides the ultimate freedom for all potential users.
As the years go on and more people become aware of their pool options, it’s likely that pools with treadmills (indoor or outdoor units) will continue their increase in popularity. With this advancement, more people will be able to enjoy the rewards of working out and rehabilitating in water, and more construction industry professionals will receive requests for these phenomenally versatile pools.