If you are a low-risk pregnant woman, your doctor may prescribe aquatic physical therapy as part of your prenatal care. Water therapy strengthens your core, legs, hips, and trunk muscles, helping to relieve the lower back pain that often comes with pregnancy. It also increases your cardiorespiratory endurance and prepares your body for an easier labor and delivery.
You don't have to be a swimmer to gain from the health benefits that aquatic therapy provides. It's a safe way to exercise both during pregnancy and the postpartum recovery period that follows.
Water-based exercise improves a pregnant woman's overall health by:
Decreasing blood pressure – high blood pressure during pregnancy can lead to complications
Increasing circulation – blood flow gets oxygen and nutrients to the fetus for normal growth and development
Increasing muscle strength and endurance – weight gain and changes in posture during pregnancy can weaken muscles, decreasing strength
Increasing range of motion – inflexibility due to alignment changes in the spine during pregnancy cause muscles to tighten, decreasing joint range of motion
Improving coordination and balance – muscle weakness that comes from carrying extra weight and hormonal changes that loosen joints interferes with coordination and balance
Reducing pain – lumbar and posterior pelvic pain (pain below the waist or across the tailbone) are common during pregnancy, but more likely to occur in women who suffer back pain prior to becoming pregnant
How Aquatic Physical Therapy Can Help
A physical therapist (PT) will develop a low-impact program for you to help relieve pain you are experiencing and increase your physical endurance, muscle strength, and flexibility. Aquatic exercise, even if you simply walk in waist- or chest-high water around the pool, works your muscles while reducing the strain on your body's joints.
Your PT will start you out slowly and gradually increase the intensity of your exercise. Although exercising in water takes the weight off your legs and back, water offers resistance and moving through it can be more exhausting than you may realize. If you start to feel tired, you need to let your PT know and slow the pace.
What Water Therapy Exercise Involves
Before you begin your exercise workout, your PT will have you warm up for a few minutes, often by walking back and forth across the pool. If you are a swimmer, you may have the option of swimming a few laps to warm up.
Your program may include alternating aerobic activity with strengthening exercise. Depending on your fitness level, your PT may have you use water weights and swimming foam tubes to provide more resistance while the water gives you buoyancy and support. Gentle stretching exercise normally follows after you've completed your workout and walked around the pool to cool down.