Hydrotherapy is the use or application of water to promote or supplement the healing process. Hydrotherapy can be as basic as soaking sore feet, or tired muscles, in a warm bath or using swimming, underwater treadmills or water activity and massage to provide a range of motion or exercise to limbs, bones, joints, muscles or nerves.
The primary advantage to hydrotherapy over traditional methods is that it is a weightless environment that promotes the use of the limbs, and provides a range of motion and movement generally not attainable with normal exercise or rehabilitation programs. Dogs that refuse to put weight on, or even use a leg following surgery will typically use the leg without any discomfort in the swimming stroke.
Hydrotherapy is indicated in post-operative rehabilitation such as:
Ligament repair (ACL/TPLO)
Hip replacement or femoral head osteoectomy (FHO)
Ruptured disc/spinal surgery
Bone (breakage) or muscle injury
Hydrotherapy is also used in the treatment of:
Typically, a hydrotherapy session for a dog relies on promoting and maintaining a swimming motion, either in a heated or ambient temperature pool environment. This can be attained by holding and supporting the dog and having it swim in place (no forward movement) or swim laps of a pool for specific times and distances. In some cases “in water” massage and manipulation of the legs by an experienced therapist is required to stimulate or provide full limb rotation, particularly in some forms of paralysis. Underwater treadmills can be used, in some cases, to provide limb movement and exercise, using the water to provide heat penetration (if needed) and reduce the amount of weight on the joints.
The use of hydrotherapy should be discussed with your veterinarian and included, where appropriate, as part of the animals overall rehabilitation program.