How to Use the Ocean for Recovery

The ocean is an amazing healing tool – mentally, physically, and spiritually. Did you know that Physical Therapists often advise the use of water to improve function, decrease pain, and promote strengthening?

The ocean is all around us! Hawaii has many areas where the water is calm. Calm water is great for those of us who are looking for gentle ways to improve strength, balance, and even pain relief when appropriate.

The pool is an excellent substitute for those of us who have trouble walking on sand safely or without pain.

If you are recovering from surgery, consult your doctor before entering the water.

The ocean offers two properties that are great for recovery:

1. Its Buoyancy


Ocean water’s high salt content allows you to be very buoyant. This means the ocean allows you to float easily and offset body and gravity weight. Buoyancy can be used to offload painful joints and decrease stress on the body’s tissues.
The deeper you go into the water, the more buoyancy you experience. If you are going as deep as your neck, you will be offloading your body more than if you as deep as your hips.

2. Its Resistance


The ocean is powerful. We have all felt the force of a wave crashing on our feet on shore. However, even calm water provides force. You may notice that walking in water is slower and takes more effort than on land. This is because water provides resistance. When your body is challenged with resistance, your muscles must use more force to move against it. This means that muscles can get stronger when using water as resistance, just as muscles can get stronger when lifting weights as resistance.

Tip: More buoyancy means more resistance on muscle while having less weight through your joints. If you go deeper in the water, you can experience more resistance against the body while offloading your joints.

While the water can help provide relief and resistance, we live our lives on the land. Since the goal is to improve your pain and strength on land, progressing aquatic activities to the land is important to do.

Example: If you are walking in deep water to offload painful knees, you could try progressing to more shallow water to see if your knees can tolerate the increased load.

If you are unsure how you can progress your activity, ask your physical therapist.

Unsure if the water is right for you? Recovering from surgery? Make sure you consult your physical therapist and/or doctor before using the ocean to help recover. As always, practice caution around the ocean and go with company.

Article Written By Nicole Hernandez, PT, DPT, Jaco Rehab

Photo Credit: Top Photo by Anastasia Taioglou on Unsplash

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