By Matt Cleveland, DVM, DACVS.
Hydrotherapy (water therapy) comes in different forms. Underwater treadmill therapy and swimming are the two mainstays of hydrotherapy and both are fantastic options for patients needing to improve strength, joint range in motion, coordination, limb function and potentially stimulate more rapid post-operative healing.
Buoyancy provided by water allows patients to use their limbs without fear of falling, reduces concussive forces on joints and bones during ambulation, and reduces overall weight that is necessary to support during the rehabilitation process. Additionally, fluid pressure (hydrostatic) helps reduce swelling of limbs by providing a constant pressure and allowing for better intravascular fluid return thus reducing edema. Water also provides resistance during motion and this allows for muscular strengthening as patients swim or walk.
Hydrotherapy is typically recommended in patients needing strength building, re-training of muscles for ambulating, and to improve overall limb function. It can also be recommended to help patients with weight loss that have difficulty getting around due to underlying osteoarthritis. Post-operative patients may benefit from hydrotherapy depending on their pre-operative status (extent of muscle loss/atrophy) and which procedure they have gone through. The main concern for post-operative patients starting hydrotherapy depends on healing of their incision and whether swimming or underwater treadmill is the best option. In most post-operative patients, once the incision has healed, underwater treadmill is typically the best rehabilitation option due to better control of the therapy environment.
Please consult with your pet’s veterinarian to see if hydrotherapy is a good option during their recovery.