Is Hydrotherapy good for arthritis

Note from Vista Healthcare – This article has been written to be general in nature, this information does not substitute information from your doctor or relevant clinician.

What is hydrotherapy?

Hydrotherapy is the use of water-based exercises to treat various health issues or to improve health. It’s a type of physical therapy that can be used to help people recover from injury, manage chronic pain, and even help with weight loss.

You may have heard of hydrotherapy before: it’s also known as aquatic therapy, aqua therapy, and pool therapy.

There are many different types of hydrotherapy, including:
• Aquatic exercises (such as swimming), which can help people with arthritis or other joint problems improve their fitness levels and mobility
• Immersion therapy, which involves sitting in a tub filled with warm water while using various methods to massage muscles and relieve tension in the body
• Hot-cold contrast therapy, which involves alternating between hot and cold temperatures to stimulate blood flow and increase circulation


How does hydrotherapy work?

A group of senior adults are taking a water aerobics class at the public pool in the gym. They are wearing bathing suits and are holding floating weights.

  • When you are submerged in the water there is less resistance and pressure on your body.
  • The warmth of the water allows your muscles to relax and eases the pain in your joints, allowing you to move more freely.
  • As the water is supporting your weight it helps alleviate joint and muscle pain and increases your range of movement.
  • Exercising in water can assist with maintaining your physical health and fitness in a safe environment.

What are the benefits?

  • Pain management
  • Reducing pressure on joints, muscles, and bones
  • Pre- and post-surgery rehabilitation to promote recovery.
  • Muscle relaxation to allow greater movement.
  • Increasing flexibility for a larger range of motion.
  • Improving fitness, strength, balance, endurance, and stamina.
  • Promotes better circulation and alleviates swelling.
  • Assists with injury and trauma recovery.
  • Weight loss and management.
  • Greater coordination and motor skills.


How Can Hydrotherapy Help with Arthritis Pain?

Hydrotherapy can be a good start if you are looking at managing high pain levels, are new to exercise, or are unable to do certain movements on land.

For those with arthritis, hydrotherapy can be extremely beneficial, regardless of the number of joints affected by the condition. Those who have undergone joint replacement therapy, or who have osteoarthritis, back pain, ankylosing spondylitis, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriatic arthritis can also benefit from hydrotherapy.

Hydrotherapy patients with arthritis have reported experiencing a significant reduction in pain and an increase in quality of life, muscle strength, aerobic conditioning, and physical functioning. [1]

“Immersion in warm water reduces load on painful joints, promotes muscle relaxation and, with some fun, allows exercise against water resistance.”

Studies have also shown that exercises performed in a heated pool have resulted in patients feeling considerable improvements to exercises performed on land. [2]

Who Can Benefit from Aquatic Therapy?

Anyone who has experienced an injury can benefit from aquatic therapy because it reduces stress on the joints and soft tissue structures that support them. This includes those recovering from surgery or who have had orthopaedic surgery like total knee replacements or hip replacements.

It is also ideal for people suffering from arthritis, back pain, and other conditions that cause inflammation in joints and surrounding areas of the body.

What Exercises help with Arthritis?

  • Walking: To get your circulation flowing, walk in the water for five minutes. This easy exercise can help strengthen knees. The buoyancy of the water protects knees from high impact and makes it easier to lift the knees higher, which works the muscles and joints even more.
  • Knee Bends: Knee bends involve bending your right knee and bringing your right foot behind you as if you were about to sit down. Knee bends can also be performed standing against the pool wall for support. Bend your right knee so that your thigh is parallel to the water’s surface and then straighten it again, lowering your leg back down. Repeat this motion by alternating legs.
  • Ankle and Toe Exercises: To stretch your ankles, sit in a spot that offers back support and straighten your knees. Bend your ankle and point your toes down, then point them up toward the ceiling. Next, curl and straighten your toes. Finally, make inward circles with your foot by moving your ankle, followed by outward circles. Perform these stretches underwater to increase their effectiveness.
  • Leg Raises: Stand with your right leg in the water, slightly bent at the knee, and the other leg out of the water. Hold on to the side of the pool or other support with both hands. Your arms should be at a 90-degree angle from your body. Lift your right leg as high as it will go, then lower it back down, keeping that same bent knee position throughout.
  • Elbow, Wrist, and Finger Exercises: Elbows can be strengthened in the water by bending the elbows and bringing your thumbs toward your shoulders. Extend your elbows again. Turn your arms so that your palms face down, and bend your elbows, bringing your fingertips toward your shoulders. Straighten your elbows again while keeping the palms facing down.
  • Squatting: Standard squatting in deep water is a great exercise for strengthening your quadriceps and hip muscles.


How can I access hydrotherapy?

To get started, contact Vista Healthcare to speak to our friendly team of licenced therapists to request our water-based therapies:

We can discuss the details and arrange an initial appointment.

While Hydrotherapy is wonderful for many clients, our first appointment will involve a checklist to determine whether Hydrotherapy is an appropriate option.


This checklist gives us an understanding of:

  • Confidence and safety around water
  • Swimming ability
  • Continence issues
  • Any fears or uncertainties about being in the water


If Hydrotherapy is suitable for you, we will arrange to meet at the pool for a first session. Generally, the first Hydrotherapy appointment will involve the Physiotherapist also being in the pool with the client. The session will include exercises to establish current capabilities and limitations to measure and understand progress into the future.

For subsequent appointments, the Physiotherapist may or may not be in the water for each session. This will depend upon the client’s individual needs.


[1] “Unblinded studies that examined the efficacy of hydrotherapy in patients with RA demonstrated a reduction in pain and an increase in quality of life (QoL), muscle strength, aerobic conditioning and physical functioning.”

[1] Al-Qubaeissy, K. Y., Fatoye, F. A., Goodwin, P. C., Yohannes, A. M. (2012). The Effectiveness of Hydrotherapy in the Management of Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Systematic Review, (1):3-18

[2] “Immersion in warm water reduces load on painful joints, promotes muscle relaxation and, with some fun, allows exercise against water resistance.”

“undertaking exercises in a heated pool are significantly more likely to feel much better or very much better than patients doing similar exercises on land.”

[2] Eversden, L., Maggs, F., Nightingale, P., Jobanputra, P. (2007). A pragmatic randomised controlled trial of hydrotherapy and land exercises on overall well being and quality of life in rheumatoid arthritis, 8: 23