I have just realised that, with all my references to hydrotherapy, I have never described one of my sessions.
The term hydrotherapy itself is synonymous with the term water cure as it was originally marketed by practitioners and promoters in the 19th century. A hydrotherapist therefore, is someone who practices hydrotherapy. Needless to say, the hydrotherapy that I am talking about is NOT the form of torture in which a person is forced to drink large quantities of water. I am talking about a course of medical treatment.
Firstly, you already know that I LOVE my warm water classes. Just stepping into the water (which is a gorgeous 32-34 degrees celsius) is heaven! Most of the pain just dissolves away, like sugar in hot tea. A lot of the time, I am tempted just to float around for an hour, absorbing the warmth into my bones, listening to the lapping of the pool and meditating (I have been told off for that – sometimes the leaders think you have died if you are too still for too long!)
Ok, I’m here to exercise. Every fibromyalgia expert will tell you that exercise is an essential component of any fibromyalgia treatment program. However, most of us complain––with valid reason––that exercise is difficult and painful. This is where Warm Water classes come in. The warmth of the water provides several benefits that make exercise easier, less painful and more effective.
- Water’s buoyancy decreases the effects of gravity, displacing 85 per cent of your weight. As a result, it takes less effort to move because you don’t have to support your whole weight.
- The buoyancy of the water also takes the weight off your joints, allowing for more flexibility (surprisingly, I can stretch my legs up further and higher).
- The hydrostatic pressure of water reduces joint swelling and inflammation, which makes exercising easier and less painful.
- Water provides resistance, which helps you increase strength and improve balance. The resistance factor also burns more calories. An exercise done in water can burn twice as many calories as the same exercise done on land.
- Immersion in water promotes relaxation, reduces muscle fatigue and lessens pain perception.
In the water, all of a sudden, you feel like you can do all the things you used to do! You can work at your own pace to gradually improve joint mobility, muscle strength and general health and fitness.
I go to ‘special’ classes held by Arthritis Victoria (best resource in Melbourne!) throughout Melbourne (update on 31 May 2015, sadly Arthritis Victoria no longer run these classes). Water exercise programs can be done on an individual basis or in a class. While individual programs are custom designed to meet your specific needs, classes are far less expensive and can be just as effective (unless you have a special need that cannot be addressed in a group setting). An added benefit to exercising with a group is the opportunity to interact with other people and make new friends. The classes are run by volunteer leaders who have been trained appropriately. During my first term, I went to an under 55/back class. The class was fun, had music and everyone chatted; but it was further from my home. This term, I started going to another class (closer) but all the fun was gone!. Needless to say, I’m going back to the first one. So lesson one – if you don’t enjoy the first class you go to, try another one!
You do not need to know how to swim (although you may be more comfortable if you can) as hydrotherapy pools are not deep. Also many of the exercises are done with flotation devices. We do a series of exercises, with a floatie-thing around our necks and a buoyancy belt around our waists – there is NO way that you are going to drown! Some of the exercises involve wrapping your arms around the side of the pool and floating, and then stretching your legs in a series of moves – cycling, frog jumps, stretches. Then we turn it around so our feet are holding onto the edge, and we exercise our arms – it may be just moving a plastic soda bottle around, against the weight of the water; or stretching. Everything gets moved, exercised and stretched. The great part is that it doesn’t feel like exercise.
What You Should Know Before Beginning a Water Exercise Program
As with any exercise program, check with your doctor before beginning any kind of water exercise. There are some patients for whom water exercise is not recommended.
Find a program with a qualified instructor. Your local Arthritis Foundation and YMCA are good places to start looking. You might also ask your doctor or physical therapist for a recommendation.
Ask about the temperature of the pool. Since most people with fibromyalgia are very sensitive to cold, the closer the pool’s temperature is to body temperature, the more comfortable you will be. However, do not attempt to exercise in a hot tub without your doctor’s permission. Just sitting in water that hot can raise your blood pressure. Exercising in hot water can be extremely dangerous.
Start slowly, exercising no more than 20 to 30 minutes two or three times a week. Gradually increase your time until you are working out 45 minutes to an hour.
Don’t overdo. Exercising in the water can be deceptive. Because you don’t feel like you’re straining, it is easy to do too much without realising it. Until you have a few sessions under your belt and know how you feel after working out, take it easy. Any time you feel tired, stop exercising and relax in the water or leave the pool.
Do not try to push through the pain. If you experience new or increased pain, stop. For us, pushing through the pain is a definite No-No!
If a particular exercise is causing you pain, stop and talk to your instructor. There may be an alternative way of doing the exercise or you may just need to sit that one out.
Relax, have fun and enjoy your newfound freedom of movement in the water!