Hydrotherapy comes from the Greek meaning 'water healing'. We use this therapy in animals in either a swimming pool or an underwater treadmill. So what is the underwater treadmill and how is it used?
The underwater treadmill is a sealed unit, which usually consists of two doors at either end and glass viewing panels. Warm water is pumped into the treadmill unit to a certain depth depending on the patient's needs. The water is heated to between 28 and 31 degrees to improve blood perfusion to tissues, reduce inflammation and promote healing. Sanitisers such as chlorine, bromine or salt are usually added to the water to keep it clean and should be managed to similar levels as found in a pool or spa.
Once the patient is acclimatised to the treadmill the belt is started and adapted to the patient's natural gait pattern or requirements. Very weak or new patients will need a very slow speeds whereas fitness and conditioning patients may build up to periods of trotting.
Safety is a priority with any form of water therapy and a thorough assessment of the patient should be made before starting this therapy. Conditions such as renal disease, diabetes and heart conditions should be carefully considered as the pressure of the water will have an impact on blood pressure and kidney function. Patients in the underwater treadmill should ALWAYS wear either a harness or buoyancy aid even if they are experienced.
For the majority of the time a hydrotherapist should be in the underwater treadmill with each patient to provide support and hands on therapies such as gait patterning and massage/stretching.
The underwater treadmill is an extremely useful tool for rehabilitation practitioners to use in combination with other therapies to help improve recovery and promote health in our patients.