Hydrotherapy- What is it really?

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As many of you know, the phrase “hydrotherapy” comes up often in our blog posts. As does “cold laser therapy”, and a slew of supplement names. I was brainstorming over this last week, and decided that I want to give you, our readers, a little more insight into what exactly these terms mean and how they work. So for the next few weeks and intermittently moving forward, some of our entries will focus on the different components of rehab as well as our amazing clients.
The first topic I want to cover is hydrotherapy. Hydrotherapy is defined by the medical dictionary as “the use of water (hot, cold, steam, or ice) to relieve discomfort and promote physical well-being.” While this seems straight forward enough, it isn’t as simple as plopping your pet in a warm tub and letting them roam. Hydrotherapy is a highly regulated practice giving us the chance to receive the most benefits from this change in environment.
One of the first and foremost benefits of hydro, as we affectionately refer to it, is the comfortable situation it creates for your pets’ aching or healing joints. Using the same science that allows our bodies to float in the ocean, we are able to remove the weight and pressure normal movement applies to a dog’s ( or cats!) joints. This not only allows for immediate pain and inflammation relief, but it gives the muscles a chance to work more uninhibited, as the range of movement isn’t as hindered by your pets discomfort. This buoyancy is one of the biggest benefits that the water gives us and opens up the door to a huge world of rehab possibilities. 
 
The water temperature also plays a key role how the body reacts to the water. Warm water, which is what we use in our tank, helps loosen and relax muscles, just like when we soak in hot bath. Cold water has it’s benefits as well. Swelling can be greatly reduced and it’s not uncommon for the application of cold or ice packs to be utilized post surgery. 
 
Our hydrotherapy tank isn’t just a big bath, it is also an underwater treadmill. This feature is crucial in the recovery or muscle and joint function. While the joints are already moving more easily due to the waters extra support, the resistance created by having to push through the water makes your pets muscles work harder. This increases the benefit and allows for quicker, more controlled muscle mass gain. 
 
Finally, the speed of the treadmill plays a huge roll in your pets overall hydrotherapy experience. When rehabbing a pet after surgery, or in the case of arthritis, we want to work and ultimately strengthen the muscles used the most everyday, the muscles used for walking. This is important because these muscles are the ones your pet is going to need to be able to get around every day. Ideally, pets are going to need more strength in their walking muscles as opposed to the muscles used for running because as they age and slow down, the ratio of walking time to running will begin to tip slowly and surely toward walking. By focusing on these muscles, we give your pet’s body the tools it needs to allow for continued mobility, in many cases much longer than they would be able to manage it on their. own. We slowly increase the speed as their strength grows, gradually working to get them to their strongest state. 
 
Hydrotherapy is a complex practice. While this post does cover many aspects of it, research and development  are ongoing and the possibilities seem almost endless. As our own rehab department grows, we will all be learning more and more about how water benefits our patients. Rehab is a continuous learning experience!
 
I hope this has given all of your a bit of a clearer picture of why hydrotherapy is as huge a part of our department as it is. As always, your questions and comments are always welcome. Have a great weekend!
Hydrotherapy- Water Therapy and Rehabilitation for Dogs Frederick MDBy Erin Toman

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