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Hydrotherapy for Athletes

Jonny Clifford explains the benefits of hydrotherapy for athletes.

The use of hydrotherapy is a well-known and researched therapy that can benefit athletes looking to aid their recovery. Most professional athletes will have heard of hydrotherapy and experienced it at some stage in their career, but it is a tool that is still not used to its full potential when supporting athletic performance.

Studies have recognised the benefits of contrast water immersion (CWI) to "a valid and effective means of accelerating recovery from high-intensity exercise in both males and females." The reports also detail the benefits caused by faster blood lactate clearance and resulting in a reduction in the tightness of muscles accompanied by a feeling of mental freshness.

The balance between training and appropriate rest is a delicate line to traverse and utilising therapies like hydrotherapy can help athletes to remain in excellent condition so that they can better recover if and when an injury does occur. If an athlete uses hydrotherapy soon after a competitive performance, then they are more likely to sustain less long term injuries that stop them from entering future competitions.

Benefits of Hydrotherapy For Athletes

The benefits of hydrotherapy are far-reaching and if used correctly, can be a powerful tool in rehabilitation and recovery from training and performing. Many conditions can be supported and even resolved with hydrotherapy, making it an ideal choice for athletes who need to recover.

Some of the main benefits of hydrotherapy include:

  • The ability to reduce muscle spasms that can cause significant discomfort and reduce the ability to perform well in training and competitions.
  • Relieving pain caused by training or injury, giving the body an environment in which it can begin to heal correctly.
  • Helping to strengthen muscles that have become weak through injury, building them gradually until back in good condition.
  • Improving the range of motion in joints by allowing gradual improvements as part of the water therapy.
  • Helping poor circulation to improve through the temperature of the water. Heat causes blood vessels to expand, and the cold then restricts them and pushes the blood straight back to the organs.
  • Educating muscles that have been paralysed as the water means that an athlete can exercise without the pressure that gravity gives when training on land.
  • Working on balance and coordination skills that have been impaired after injury or illness.

When Athletes Should Use Hydrotherapy

Hydrotherapy is not suitable for all injuries or all athletes, and the use of it needs to be monitored carefully so that each athlete gets the best from it. When hydrotherapy is used, it should form part of a wider programme.

Hydrotherapy can be used to help conditions such as frozen shoulders and sprains. It is also a great therapy to undergo after knee surgery and head injuries as it is a gentle therapy that yields results quickly.

Hydrotherapy is also a good tool to use to help with recovery after training. It can be incorporated into a regular recovery plan to help the body come back from stresses and strains in a gentle and supportive way. This can either be conducted in a specialist hydrotherapy pool or within a hot tub or swim spa. There are a wide range of benefits from using a hot tub regularly if a specialist pool is not accessible.

Hydrotherapy can also be used to support exercise that may be too difficult to undertake when out of the water. The majority of exercises can be adjusted to suit water and made more comfortable or more complicated, depending on the condition the athlete is in when they start. This type of exercise generates outstanding results and can be the difference between an athlete performing well and smashing a personal best!

Conditioning is also a valuable training tool, and by using moving water in hydrotherapy, athletes can build muscle and increase the difficulty of an exercise without the risk of injury. Conditioning then becomes a powerful tool and athletes can push themselves forward without being concerned about sustaining injuries.

When Hydrotherapy Should Not Be Used

There are some injuries and conditions that are not helped by hydrotherapy. In these situations, you should avoid the use of hydrotherapy as a tool until a full recovery has been made.

Some of the circumstances that athletes need to avoid hydrotherapy include when they have experienced injuries that are still inflamed. If an area is hot or red, then it is not suitable to use hydrotherapy. All swelling must be under control before an athlete can make use of a hydrotherapy pool to complete their recovery journey.

Other conditions that preclude athletes from using hydrotherapy include hypertension, any heart condition or if they are running a fever as the heat of the pool can cause a negative effect within the body and put them at risk of more complicated illnesses and injuries.

If an athlete normally uses hydrotherapy as part of a recovery plan, then this must be suspended if any of the conditions mentioned above are present. As with any injury, a doctor and physio should be consulted to ensure that athletes do not get into a hydrotherapy pool before they are well enough.

Conclusion

Hydrotherapy can be a powerful tool when used consistently and for the right conditions. It aids in recovery from injury, can help with conditioning and provide a different way of exercising so that muscles are continually being challenged to improve wherever possible.

There has been much research on the use of hydrotherapy, and it is clear that it is of great benefit in times of specific injuries as part of an ongoing treatment plan.

By using hydrotherapy only after an injury has occurred, athletes will not get the full benefit it provides, and it is advised that they use it regularly as a recovery tool so that injuries are easier to deal with and their bodies are always in optimum condition. Athletes that use hydrotherapy consistently tend to enjoy better results than those who only use it after injuries have already been sustained; therefore, it is an ideal choice for athletes and coaches to include in training plans.


Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • CLIFFORD, J. (2019) Hydrotherapy Benefits for Athletes [WWW] Available from: https://www.brianmac.co.uk/articles/article526.htm [Accessed

About the Author

Jonny Clifford is a specialist health and lifestyle writer. He is also a former coach and athlete regionally in the UK.

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