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According to recent estimates, more than 54 million U.S. adults per year are diagnosed with some form of joint disease.1 Are you among them? While there are more than 100 different forms of arthritis, common symptoms include: pain, swelling of joints, stiffness, and decreased range of motion that worsens over time. These may represent a daily nuisance or a severely debilitating affliction. In fact, arthritis is the leading cause of work disability in the United States.2
Young people are also affected. Nearly 300,000 American children—ranging from infants to teenagers—have some form of arthritis. Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), also known as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA), is the most common type, and includes various subtypes.3 What can be done to help?
Fortunately, there are many strategies to preserve joint function, mobility and quality of life. The first step is to learn about your disease and consider treatment options available to you. In addition to dietary changes, medication and physical therapy, more general treatment strategies include:
When physical movement becomes painful, it is easy to develop a sedentary lifestyle. True, this may avoid a measure of pain at first. But it quickly leads to increased stiffness and worsening pain. To overcome this challenge, millions of people each year turn to hydrotherapy and aquatic fitness as part of their daily or weekly routine. Why so?
Hydrotherapy uses water to relieve discomfort and promote physical and mental well-being. Beyond simply feeling good, it actually helps the body prepare itself for activity, and makes recovery after physical exertion easier. Rather than being a short term solution, hydrotherapy improves your long-term quality of life by helping you maintain a healthier, more active lifestyle. And swimming is an excellent, low-impact activity for people suffering from arthritis.
According to the Arthritis Foundation: “Soaking in warm water… reduces the force of gravity that’s compressing the joint, offers 360-degree support for sore limbs, can decrease swelling and inflammation and increase circulation.”4 The Mayo Clinic website remarks: “Although some children [with juvenile arthritis] respond well to cold packs, most children prefer a hot pack or a hot bath or shower.”5 And among other things, the Hospital for Sick Children suggests: “Do exercises in a hot tub or warm swimming pool.”6 The same principles apply to young and old alike.
Much like wearing a full-body compression suit, water surrounding the body creates “hydrostatic” pressure. This encourages fluid in the hands, arms, feet and legs to recirculate, easing swelling and inflammation. In the range of 92 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit (33 to 40°C), heated water raises skin temperature, dilates superficial blood vessels, and improves circulation. As the body's core temperature increases the heart beats at a faster rate, mimicking the effects of mild aerobic exercise. Meanwhile, blood pressure goes down because the heart is able to pump blood more efficiently. As an added bonus, the body releases heat shock proteins (HSPs) which trigger cellular protection and modulate the inflammatory response.7 In fact, scientific research shows a promising connection between heat shock protein activity and longer lifespan.8
In addition to soaking in heated water, swim spas provide the added benefits of hydromassage. Hydromassage uses therapy jets to focus heated water against common points of stress and tension. These include the neck, shoulders, back, hips, legs and feet. Adjustable controls mix air into the water stream to vary the massage sensation, ranging from gentle friction to a more percussive effect. Some jets feature spinning inserts to create a circular or kneading effect. Combining a variety of jets in different arrangements serves to relax tight muscles, improve the elasticity of underlying fascia and muscle tissue, and evacuate toxins (such as lactic acid) to further reduce stiffness and pain.
During hydromassage sessions, performing gentle stretching or range of motion exercises is easier, and further prepares the body for physical exertion. Then, simply transition from seated hydrotherapy to more active water aerobics or swim training. After exercising, another period of hydromassage aids recovery as you cooldown before exiting the spa.
Of course, it is vital to balance activity with rest. This avoids overexertion, and helps to manage the mental and emotional stressors that arise each day. In this regard, hydrotherapy provides a wonderful spectrum of relaxation benefits, which is a popular reason to purchase a swim spa.
According to a 2013 Dutch study published in Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, 80 patients with rheumatoid arthritis were studied for a period of six months. Researchers paid special attention to daily stressors, relying on each patient’s subjective perception of stress. The study found that “patients who have a tendency for more worrying reported slightly more disease activity, more swollen joints and more pain.”9 While the study recommends further research, these findings illustrate a strong correlation between stress and arthritis symptoms.
When soaking in a swim spa, multiple layers of therapy combine to relieve mental and emotional stress. On top of physical pain relief, the gentle sound of bubbling water combines with peaceful music, supplemented by mood lighting and aromatherapy essences added to the water. By engaging all the senses at once, the relaxation experience is heightened even more. In fact, many swim spa owners find that soaking in the evening promotes better sleep.
Owning a swim spa also provides a fun and convenient place for couples and families to gather, removed from the distraction of electronic gadgets, video games, social media and television. It’s the perfect getaway for social bonding and lighthearted conversation, fostering improved relationships and emotional well-being.
Reduced activity due to physical pain often leads to weight gain. More weight adds further stress to sore joints and muscles causing more pain. This can lead to less activity and possibly more weight gain. To break this vicious cycle, millions of people each year have turned to hydrotherapy and aquatic fitness to lose weight.
When soaking in a swim spa, the buoyancy of the human body in water naturally relieves the strain of gravity. As discussed earlier, heated water triggers a cascade of beneficial activity in the body. And by mimicking the effects of mild aerobic exercise, hydrotherapy and aquatic exercise helps an obese person gently transition into exercise on dry land. Instead of overwhelming the body, leading to discouragement, it makes the process more enjoyable. As an added bonus, the heat shock proteins mentioned earlier have been linked to improved insulin function, a promising benefit for those with type 2 diabetes.10
Of course, diet plays an equally important role. Some foods aggravate arthritis symptoms, and may promote weight gain as well. Following a healthy diet recommended by your healthcare provider can serve multiple benefits. Reduced pain, better weight loss, and more nutritious energy to fuel physical activity. All the while, regular swim spa use promotes better circulation, lower blood pressure, and a brighter, more refreshed sense of well-being. Plus, a better mood will likely help you avoid those unhealthy “comfort” foods.11
At the end of the day, the simple truth is: hydrotherapy makes sense. For those suffering from arthritis pain and associated health conditions, such as fibromyalgia, it has proven to be just what the doctor ordered. True, the physical processes inside the human body are complex and interconnected. But the benefits of hydrotherapy are straightforward, namely:
Given the combination of heat therapy and hydromassage, the social benefits for couples and families, and the convenience of owning your own swim spa, it is not hard to understand why Aquatic Training Vessels™ have become so popular. In fact, therapy benefits and swim training rank among the top reasons why people choose ATV™ and consider it the best swim spa brand. Our approach to high-flow therapy is so unique you can literally feel the difference. To learn more, contact your local ATV Dealer to schedule a test soak, and receive answers to your questions about features, options, pricing and installation. The sooner you take action, the sooner you can reclaim your quality of life and start feeling better. Use our Dealer Locator to get started.