Utah State University Study: “Water Power” Reduces Osteoarthritis Pain

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Can water-based exercises and protocols make a serious dent in osteoarthritis sufferers’ pain levels? According to results from a recent Utah State University study, they can by up to 24%.

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Can water-based exercises and protocols make a serious dent in osteoarthritis sufferers’ pain levels? According to results from a recent Utah State University study, they can by up to 24%.

Conducted by the University’s John Worley Sports Medicine Research Center, the 2010 study published in the International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education evaluated the perceived pain levels and objective physical abilities of senior-aged patients with knee, hip or ankle osteoarthritis (OA). Each subject walked for prearranged periods on a HydroWorx underwater treadmill and a land-based treadmill. Afterwards, they self-diagnosed perceived levels of discomfort.

The results revealed that the individuals rated their pain levels (via visual analog pain scales) an average of 24% less after working out three sessions in one week in an aquatic environment as opposed to after working out on a land-based treadmill. The OA patients displayed greater mobility after underwater than land treadmill exercise when assessed with the Timed Up & Go test (TUG).

In an extension of the project, preliminary research published in abstract form in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise (2011) revealed that patients with knee OA displayed improved knee kinematics following the week of aquatic versus land treadmill exercise. Specifically, knee extension velocities in the involved knees increased by 23% after aquatic treadmill exercise and approached values reported for a healthy control population.

Eadric Bressel, PhD and Clinical Biomechanist for the Research Center, the principal investigator for the project, contends the mechanism for reduced pain and improved kinematics is unknown but may be related to aquatic factors, such as buoyancy, hydrostatic pressure and temperature. The observed improvements in mobility (TUG) may be similar to the acute neuromuscular gains observed after starting a land-based resistance training program but without load-elicited pain. The results from these preliminary studies are encouraging and suggest the need for further investigation.

Anson Flake, president, HydroWorx, sees the University case study as evidence of the innate healing power of water. “More physical therapists and trainers are turning to aquatic therapy to help their clients achieve goals.”

“It makes sense. While in the water, a person’s body weight is reduced 80-90%. The hydrostatic pressure component of the HydroWorx underwater treadmill helps flush out joint edema and significantly aids the mobility of the patient. When combined with warm water temperatures, underwater treadmill exercise and rehabilitation becomes enjoyable, and – for many afflicted with osteoarthritis – pain free,” says Flake.

Currently, HydroWorx underwater treadmill pools can be found throughout the United States at hundreds of clinics and hospitals. Adds Flake, “As athletically-driven ‘Baby Boomers’ deal with the medical realities of normal aging, including osteoarthritis, maintaining a solid fitness routine without the risk of injury or physical distress is paramount to continuing a healthy lifestyle.”

About HydroWorx

HydroWorx, based in Middletown, Pennsylvania, offers a wide range of underwater treadmill pools, underwater treadmills, and peripheral products and services. Every day, more than 15,000 athletes and patients use HydroWorx technology to recover from injuries and health conditions.

More information about HydroWorx can be found at http://www.HydroWorx.com.

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Lynn Burkholder
HydroWorx
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