What is Hydrotherapy?
Hydrotherapy uses the properties of water along with controlled exercise to increase muscle mass, cardiovascular fitness, circulation, pain relief, range of motion, mental stimulation and reduce inflammation, all within a non weight bearing environment without stressing the joints as usual exercise does. This is all done within a clean sanitised pool with warm water for comfort and to maximise the therapeutic effects.
Muscle strengthening and maintenance
Muscles are key to movement and physical strength. It's important to ensure an even gait, that the muscles on all four limbs are as even as possible. Muscle wastage can start to occur within 3 days of immobilisation, so after an operation the wastage over a 6 weeks rest period can be quite substantial.
By using the properties of water, hydrotherapy can help build and maintain muscles. Exercise performed in water makes them work harder due to its resistance properties. As the patient swims, it has to use all it's muscle groups to help keep them afloat and moving.
Turbulence within water, which can be increased using jets, provides an unstable enviroment creating the need for the patient to work these areas harder increasing their power. The warm temperature of the water relaxes muscles and promotes healing and comfort.
The warmth of the water has an analgesic effect, and resistance slows down exercise, reducing the risk of injury through jerky movement.
Hydrostatic pressure produced by water actually supports the patient's body within the water, meaning that the patient does not feel their own body weight on their joints and limbs. Even disabled patients with paresis or paralysis can sometimes stand in water, due to its properties. The hydrostatic pressure removes lactic acid out of the cells within the body which reduces swelling and soreness. Swimming also increases production of synovial fluid around the joints.
We all want our dogs to be fit which will enable them to exercise and be as healthy as possible. Water within the pool creates resistance which pushes against the chest and resists the muscles to expand. The force required to exercise in water not only increases bone and muscle strength, but results in more effort required from the patient improving stamina with increased cardiovascular benefits. The patient whilst safe and under controlled exercise, will have to work to keep moving and stay afloat.
Warm water creates an increase in bloodflow which aids the muscles to work. And turbulence will stimulate the skin increasing circulation and sensory awareness.
Range of motion
Buoyancy works against gravity enabling non weight bearing exercise for the patient, and allows for increased range of motion within the pool.
Viscosity slows things down and gives more time for the limbs to move.
The warmth of the water increases soft tissue extensibility, allowing the limbs to move more freely. So along with building a muscle area, increasing synovial joint fluid and soft tissue extensibility hydrotherapy will result in an improved and more balanced gait as well as improving proprioception.
This is most probably the easiest for us to understand of all the benefits. Most dogs love to swim and a visit to the pool will provide mental stimulation, especially for those dogs who are recovering, as they are restricted from exercising at home. Swimming increases their sensory awareness. More than that it will help even an unstable dog to stand for longer periods.
Most sessions involve the use of a toy to encourage exercise, and we all know our dogs love toys to chase! For those that require confidence, swimming will help to build this for them.
Dogs who have excess energy, or any behavioural issues can also benefit as swimming for 5 minutes is like a 30min fast paced walk, which along with the mental stimulation, should help to shed the energy.
We all know that to lose weight takes a combination of exercise and an improved diet. Swimming is a great all round exercise with lots of additional benefits, not just weight loss. Even short bursts of swimming use the whole body, which will result in fat being burned off. Along with the cardiovascular benefits and increased stamina, it will enable the patient to cope with increased exercise at home.
Don't think that even though your pet has no specific need for hydrotherapy right now, maintaining your pet's health will help them stay fit and well so that if they are unlucky enough to pick up an injury, they can cope with that and recover faster. Regular swimming will most certainly help to keep them more mobile as they get older. It's worth considering this as part of an exercise regime to maintain an even gait and keep their muscles and ligaments strong to give them the best chance of a full and healthy life.