Oh man! I had a great day today. So my current clinical experience is made up of 40% aquatic physical therapy. I think it’s fine, the research on it, from what I can find, seems to support its efficacy and validate it’s use. But that’s not what I’m excited about.
Have you heard of the MIRAGE arthritis study from Univ. Nottingham? (Here’s the link to an article on the study, it is definitely worth a read.) In the study they manipulate the visual cues to a patient (shown via a computer screen, generated real-time ) while also giving them sensory input via pulling on a painful arthritis ridden finger. As the finger was physically pulled, the computer image showed the finger getting longer. These individuals reported a reduction in pain, due to the perception. The visual and physical input combined for a powerful analgesic.
I had this similar experience today in the pool. I was demonstrating a hamstring stretch to a patient (all patients have tight hammys, ya know) and noticed the flow and gentile vibrations of the water gave the visual illusion that my leg was wiggling and waving ever-so-smoothly. A mirage effect, if you will. The above study came flooding to my mind.
Almost all of our aquatic patients complain of arthritis or stiffness in the back, hips or knees. Perhaps providing aquatic therapy gives an enhanced visual input and sensation of free flowing movement, which may enhance the effects of therapy! Now, I know that Archimedes owns this territory and buoyancy and steady resistance are hallmarks of aquatic PT, but I am inclined to say that the sensory input and visual input from the water has got to make the patient feel less stiff. The brain cannot ignore such imagery and sensation.
Take a look the next time you’re in a pool. I see some possibilities. That primary visual cortex of yours will take that information in and spill some out to the association cortex… perhaps those visual ripples can wash over to the post-central gyrus and wiggle things up. We are, after-all, defined internally by vision, touch and movement.