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Try water exercises for joint pain

Illustration - Woman doing water exercises in pool
If you have joint pain, water exercises can provide the weight-bearing impact you need to reduce or prevent bone loss.

If you can’t do land-based exercises very well or without pain, water exercises are a nice way for you to be more fit and even lose weight.

Terri Graham, a physical therapist for Marshfield Clinic, said people who have joint pain and may be a little overweight seem to do best exercising in the water.

Great for your back, hip or knee

“Water ‘unweights’ those joints that are typically more painful,” she said. “This is especially true for people with back, hip or knee pain.”

Where to stand in a pool or body of water is a key issue. Floating in the deepest part of the pool will not get the weight-bearing impact needed to reduce or prevent bone loss.

Waist-deep water is best

Simply move to waist-deep water with your feet touching the pool bottom. This increases weight bearing in the joints by 50 percent and is essential to promote nutrition and bone growth.

Water exercise is, therefore, a great choice for people who have a hard time doing land-based exercise, Graham said, since they can gradually decrease the depth of the water they’re in to promote bearing more weight.

Follow this guide to begin weight-bearing exercises at home.

Calming effect

Water exercises can also help with other conditions and have a calming effect, especially for people with anxiety, she noted. It also gives constant feedback on how much they’re moving.

Talk to your doctor first

One thing to watch out for with any exercise program is the impact it might have on the heart and cardiovascular system.

“Exercise, especially in the pool, increases blood flow to the heart so anyone with an underlying heart condition or history of heart failure should definitely be careful,” Graham said.

Because of concern about impacting the heart, ask your doctor before starting any exercise program.

Physical therapy services are available at several Marshfield Clinic locations. Aquatic therapy is available in Chippewa Falls, Eau Claire, Wittenberg, Woodruff and Rice Lake.

16 responses to “Try water exercises for joint pain”

  1. Joanne

    Are water aerobics a available in Minocqua or Eagle River? Where? Cost?

    1. Jordan Simonson

      Hi Joanne, It looks like the YMCA in Rhinelander offers water aerobics. Here is more information: https://www.ymcaofthenorthwoods.org/programs/aquatics/water-exercise/ Thanks, Jordan

  2. D. Rein

    I do water areobics and water jogging 90 min. 4-5 days a week. Half waist deep half deep water exercises. I wear a swim belt in the shallow water for lower impact for knees and back., In the deep water to do several exercises that I learned in a water areobics class that did half shallow water and half deep water. Are you saying the deep water exercises are a waste of time? I really disagree with you, you should prob. Check a class out and see what a Great work out it is! The last time you wrote that I wanted to comment on that, when it was in there again I had to send a comment.. Both my knees are bad and have advanced arthritis in both knees. The water exercises have helped me stay pain free and being able to walk! .I find most articles very interesting, and read them all.

    1. Kirsten Shakal, Shine365 Editor

      Hi, D.R. I shared your question with Terri, physical therapist. She wanted to clarify – Deep-water exercises aren’t necessarily a waste of time. You can get a great aerobics exercise in deep water. This post, however, is focused on weight-bearing exercises. Your feet touching the bottom increases weight bearing to promote greater bone and joint health.

      She added, "Deeper water exercises are great for aerobic fitness and can have a multitude of health benefits. You can do progressive resisted exercise in deeper water to promote increased muscle strength, too. The reason we try to progress into shallow water and into weight bearing is because on land we are always exposed to gravity and by grading depth it can promote improved function on land."

      I hope that helps, and thank you for reading Shine365. –Kirstie

  3. Peggy B.

    I currently swim one mile about three times each week. How do the benefits of this compare with the waist deep programs suggested?

    1. Kirsten Shakal

      Peggy – Good question. Here is Terri’s response: “Swimming a mile is a good cardio workout and builds muscle strength without gravity working against you. In the post, however, we are suggesting practicing exercises in waist-deep water and gradually decreasing the depth to promote bearing weight and improved function with land based activities.” Thanks for reading. -Kirstie

  4. Sue G

    North Central Health Care Center in Wausau has an excellent, full size, warm water therapy pool. They offer aquatic P.T. (by prescription) as well as arthritis classes and water-walking classes. After completing aquatic therapy, patients can continue to use the pool "on their own" with a personalized program developed by their physical therapist. I have been using the pool for eight years. It was a God-send before/after my spine fusion in 2009 and rotator cuff surgeries (right and left shoulders) in 2011 and 2012.

  5. Nancy Arndorfer

    Merrill has water aerobic exercise at the middle school. Check the school website for times.

  6. Shirley Burt

    We have great pool excercises in Arizona, outdoors with heated pools. Thanks for telling me to get into waist deep water! We all tend to go into the deepest we can standup in due to wind chill.

  7. Vinessa Zillman

    The YMCA offers many water exercise classes which are free with a membership. The Silver Sneakers program is available at the Wausau location & membership fees are paid by some insurance policies. Classes are done with music and are fun social events.

  8. Melanie Clark

    I am using the Aquatic therapy program at the North Central Healthcare Center in Wausau. It is a great program with the most wonderful physical therapists. Then, one the PTs get one started on an exercise program, the pool is available for continuing exercise on an individual basis. The water is warm, which helps those of us with pain or mobility issues.

  9. Robyn Tonkin

    I participated in a water exercise program in winter 2015, in Iron River, MI. The pool there does not have chlorine in the water, only a harmless salt that keeps the water pure, yet does not dry your skin. I was very happy with the program, and found water exercises to be much better fitness exercises than I was expecting they would be. I am a runner and very physically fit and active. Give water exercise a try–you will like it!

  10. Muriel Bergman

    Where is this offered in Chippewa Falls?

    1. Kirsten Shakal

      Hi, Muriel. Marshfield Clinic Chippewa Falls Center — 2655 County Highway I — offers aquatic therapy. https://www.marshfieldclinic.org/Locations/Centers/Chippewa%20Falls%20Center -Kirstie

  11. Elaine wendt

    And where in EC can a person go for water exercise that does not cost an arm and a leg?p

    1. Kirsten Shakal

      Elaine – The Eau Claire Physical Therapy Center at 1262 W. Clairemont Ave. provides aquatic therapy. They said, "The actual pool we use is at the Eau Claire YMCA. Insurance, including Medicare and Medicaid, typically cover the visits, and we can work with you to build an independent program to continue at the pool of your choice once you're done with your episode of therapy."

      Adrian Thur is the therapist at this location who provides aquatic therapy: https://www.marshfieldclinic.org/Doctors/Adrian-K-Thur-MSPT

      For accurate costs, please consider contacting our Fee Estimators: https://www.marshfieldclinic.org/patient-resources/billing/fee-estimates -Kirstie

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