A new study shows hydrotherapy, or water exercise, may improve strength and mobility in patients with osteoarthritis.
Researchers from Australia studied more than 100 patients with osteoarthritis who were older than age 50. Patients were divided into three groups. The first group exercised three times a week in a swimming pool, the second exercised in a gym, and the third did not exercise at all. Both the water and gym programs focused on resistance exercises.
Results of the study show patients in both exercise groups were able to walk faster and further than those in the control group. Researchers say the ability to walk is extremely important in these patients because it allows them to increase and maintain independence while increasing muscle strength around affected joints.
Patients in the gym group reported increased thigh muscle strength in both legs, while those in the water group experienced improved strength in their left thighs only. Patients in the water group, who reported worse symptoms at the start of the study, also experienced a reduction in pain. Researchers say water exercises increase cardiovascular fitness and allow patients to exercise with greater intensity than they might be able to on land.
Researchers say these results show patients with osteoarthritis can engage in higher intensity exercises. They conclude: "Both the gym and hydrotherapy interventions produce positive functional outcomes for patients with osteoarthritis. However, it seems that hydrotherapy may be more suitable for aerobic based exercise programs. Hydrotherapy provides the optimal environment for patients with osteoarthritis to exercise aerobically, and at higher intensities than would be possible on land."