Aquatic Therapy for Chronic Back Pain

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by Ed Tobias |

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Multiple sclerosis (MS) has gotten to be a real pain in the back.

In the past couple years, I’ve developed pain in a few areas of my body, especially my butt and back. Last winter, I tried physical therapy, but relief lasted only a short while. So, I think I’ll head back to the swimming pool to try some do-it-yourself aquatic therapy.

In the pool

I’ve been prompted to do this by a study recently published in JAMA reporting that for people with chronic back pain, aquatic therapy produced better results than physical therapy that used transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation and infrared thermal therapy.

As part of the study, physical therapists worked with patients in a pool twice a week for 12 weeks. Following a 10-minute warmup, the participants spent 40 minutes doing exercises involving abdominal bracing, a vertical downward press, a lateral downward press, straight leg raising, treading water, and deep water running. The session ended with a 10-minute cool-down.

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After three months, the aquatic therapy was reported to have had a greater impact than traditional therapy on pain, function, quality of life, sleep quality, and mental state. Those improvements lasted up to a year.

Doing it yourself

The exercises in the study are similar to some of those in a video that physical therapist Laura Diamond has produced. Diamond recommends combining the therapy that she provides to her patients in the pool with traditional physical therapy in a clinic.

You can find some do-it-yourself water exercises on some MS websites. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society has a great aquatic exercise guide, and the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America website has an entire section of aquatic exercises.

Of course, if you’re planning to do any exercise, including aquatic therapy, talk it over with your doctor first.

Doing it myself

I can’t do as much in the pool as I once did. A bum left rotator cuff has left me unable to swim for a while. However, I have been walking in the pool, and I’ve just begun to use water weights. I haven’t been doing enough exercises, particularly those designed to strengthen my core and my back. But prompted by this study, I’m going to try to exercise in the pool at least twice a week and focus on the back exercises performed by study participants.

Of course, getting out of my chair and away from my laptop more frequently probably would also help.

You’re invited to visit my personal blog at


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


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