Hydrotherapy and multiple sclerosis
Power of Gravity
When walking around doing the day to day activities we tend to forget about gravity. Gravity is everywhere, its keeping things on the ground. Pour water out of a jug. It is the effect of gravity that makes the water flows to a lower level. Hydrotherapy allows muscle stretching and improving joint flexibility using the water to support your weight.
Why do I fall over?
Gravity is one reason why people with multiple sclerosis fall over. Take walking as an example. If you have problems with your feet such as foot drop the brain is unaware of the position of the foot relative to the ground. Put it down at the wrong angle, put some weight on it and before you know what’s happened you have fallen over. Tell me, I’ve done just that lots of times.
What happens when you get into the water? You feel lighter because the water supports a very large proportion of your weight. When you move your limbs you do not have to fight gravity because the weight is supported by the water. This makes movement steadier and so much easier.
Buoyancy in water
If the water comes up to your shoulders then less effort is required to hold your arms horizontally in front of you or to the side. The muscles are being stretched but the body is not having to fight gravity; this helps to reduce joint stiffness. This is taking advantage of your buoyancy in water.
Water is denser than air so more energy is required to move through it. The resistance of the water causes the body to move in a more fluid and steady way. It is difficult to do sudden jerky movements in the water.
How does all this help someone with multiple sclerosis? Immersion in water promotes muscle elasticity; you have more control over movement because you do not have to fight gravity. In other words the limbs feel lighter. Another effect is to reduce spasticity, allowing people with MS to become more aware of normal body movements giving better balance and eye co-ordination.
When I took my first step onto the ladder and into the pool I immediately felt much more in control of my legs. The pool is only 1.5 m (5 feet) deep so no problems walking. The foot drop vanished, could lift my left leg up as easily as my right leg. It was a fantastic feeling of freedom. I found the stretching exercises very easy because I did not have to fight gravity.
As soon as I got out of the water all the familiar MS problems returned. For half an hour I had been freed from the manacles of multiple sclerosis. In the evening I felt pleasantly fatigued, it was from physical exertions of hydrotherapy. Yes get me back in that pool again; the freedom was as unexpected as it was pleasurable.