BY DR. PAUL MACKAREY

The world is still contending with the coronavirus pandemic and its related economic difficulties, which means more people are staying home this summer. And a lot of them are enjoying pools.

It’s a great opportunity to look at the pool — whether it’s yours or not — as a health spa.

Swimming is the exercise of choice for many people, including those who have discovered the benefits of moving their limbs in warm water after knee or shoulder surgery. Long-distance runners who often look for cross-training methods without joint compression, and arthritis sufferers who are often limited by joint pain during weight-bearing exercise, also can enjoy water’s buoyancy effects of water. These are good examples of the benefits or water exercise.

Most doctors recommend some form of exercise with arthritis. Pain and fatigue are the most limiting factors for arthritis sufferers, and pool exercise may be the answer. With proper technique, adequate rest periods, appropriate resistance and repetitions, water exercise can be very effective.

 

Benefits

The benefits of water exercise are many. They include:

  • Decreased risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Improved endurance.
  • Improved strength – with water resistance exercising the muscles.
  • Improved flexibility and range of motion, with less pain.
  • Improved function in daily activities.
  • Maintained mobility.
  • Better balance.
  • Slowing down osteoporosis.
  • Weight control, which leads to less stress on joints.
  • Improved mood and attitude through release of endorphins and serotonin.
  • Improved circulation, especially in warm water.
  • Decreased muscle spasm and tension again, especially in warm water.
  • Decreased stress on joints.

SUBMITTED PHOTO
Swimming is the exercise of choice for many people, including those who have discovered the benefits of moving their limbs in warm water after knee or shoulder surgery.

 

Getting started

First, see your family physician for clearance, especially if you have a cardiac history or joint replacements. Do not use a pool if you have surgical sutures or an open wound. Keep the pool warm — 83-88 degrees Fahrenheit. Begin walking exercises in the shallow end; try running exercises with a buoyancy vest in the deep end. And try underwater aerobics, using your arms and legs as in regular aerobic exercise, but in the water. Strength and flexibility exercises are also beneficial in water.

Start slowly and don’t overdo it: five to 10 minutes and repetitions the first time, adding two or three minutes/repetitions each week. Make your long-term goal 20-40 minutes per session, three to four times per week.

Submerge the body part that you want to exercise and move it slowly. Complete the range of motion — initially five times, advancing to 10, 15, 20 and 30 times.

Assess: Determine if you have pain three to four hours after you exercise or into the next day. If so, you overdid it. Make adjustments next time by decreasing repetitions, speed, and the amount and intensity of exercise.

Warmup: Make sure you warm up slowly before the exercise with slow and easy movements.

Advance slowly by adding webbed gloves, weighted boots and buoyant barbells to increase resistance.

 

Exercises

Try these exercises standing in the shallow end of the pool:

  • Heel raises: Push toes down and heel up.
  • Toe raises: Lift toes up and push heel down.
  • Leg kicks: Extend your leg up and down.
  • Hip hike: Raise your knee up 4-6 inches and then back down.
  • Leg squeeze: Squeeze your knees together and then move them apart.
  • Leg curl: Bend your knee.
  • Torso twist: Slowly turn your arms/torso to the right, then the left.
  • Shoulder forward and backward: Move like you’re paddling a boat.
  • Shoulder out and in: Move like a bird flying.
  • Bend your elbow up and down.

PAUL J. MACKAREY, P.T., D.H.Sc., O.C.S., is a doctor in health sciences specializing in orthopedic and sports physical therapy. He is in private practice and an associate professor of clinical medicine at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine. Email: drpmackarey@msn.com.