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  • Researchers: Aquatic Exercise Offers Similar Results With Less Pain for Patients With Chronic LBP

    Aquatic exercise, a common physical therapist intervention for patients with chronic low back pain (CLBP), shouldn't be viewed as "less strenuous or less effective" than land-based exercise, according to authors of a recent study in PTJ (Physical Therapy). In fact, they write, water-based exercise can be beneficial for people whose movement is limited by pain.

    Researchers recruited 40 men aged 18 to 45 with a healthy body mass index. Half of participants had experienced CLBP for greater than 12 weeks; the control group experienced no back pain. Both groups performed 15 aquatic exercises and 15 land-based exercises with movement patterns similar to the aquatic exercises. Fourteen of the exercises included upper extremity dynamic movements, and 16 focused on the lower extremities.

    The authors measured heart rate, rate of perceived exertion, and pain. They also used video motion analysis and wireless, waterproof EMG sensors to measure bilateral activation of the erector spinae, multifidus, gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, rectus abdominis, external oblique, and internal oblique muscles.

    Among their findings:

    There were few significant differences between the CLBP and control groups. Heart rate (HR), rate of perceived exertion (RPE), pain, and muscle activation for both land and water-based exercises were similar for both groups. Patients with CLBP had greater mean left erector spinae activations in one exercise and higher RPE in another.

    Differences were seen when comparing results for exercises performed in water versus land. Muscle activation was greater on land in 29% of cases and in water in 5% of cases. Heart rate was higher on land with all exercises, but RPE was not consistently higher or lower in either environment.

    Pain was reported more than twice as frequently when subjects exercised on land. However, pain levels were generally low in both environments.

    While the study was small, and the researchers say it was the first to examine this data set for aquatic exercises, the fact that results were similar for both groups suggested to them that "exercising in the water can be beneficial for rehabilitation and strengthening by allowing people with CLBP to perform the exercises and activate muscles without their condition adversely affecting them."

    [Editor's note: interested in aquatic physical therapy? Check out the APTA Academy of Aquatic Physical Therapy.]

    Research-related stories featured in PT in Motion News are intended to highlight a topic of interest only and do not constitute an endorsement by APTA. For synthesized research and evidence-based practice information, visit the association's PTNow website.

    Comments

    • Hello, my name is Morgan Armstrong. I am a high school student, and I really enjoyed reading your article. I would love to use it in a research paper I am doing over aquatic physical therapy vs physical therapy on land. Would you mind giving me the author's name?

      Posted by Morgan Armstrong on 3/11/2019 11:32 AM

    • Morgan! Click on the link https://academic.oup.com/ptj/article/99/3/297/5299588 and you will get the article and all of the authors names.

      Posted by Jeff Harband on 3/13/2019 8:04 PM

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