Can Aquatics Help With Stroke Recovery

Aquatics intervention has been found to be very helpful for recovery and strengthening after injury to bones and muscles and even easing arthritis pain. It’s also considered a great low-impact cardio workout. Because of the many benefits of aquatic exercise therapies on other conditions, research has been done to determine the effect of aquatic intervention for patients recovering from a stroke.

Stroke is the #1 leading cause of permanent disability in America. With a stroke, every second counts, because oxygen deprivation to the brain caused by a stroke causes the death of two million brain cells every two minutes. Quick intervention is necessary to get blood to the brain and limit the damage.

Once the stroke has been treated and the patient is in the recovery stage, therapeutic intervention should begin as soon as possible in order to regain function in the brain and the body.

Effects of stroke on balance and mobility

The variety of effects of stroke on the body can have a devastating effect on a person’s mobility and independence. The severity of the stroke, the type of stroke, and its location in the brain, along with the person’s physical condition prior to the stroke, all affect the degree of injury. Some post-stroke conditions that may affect mobility and balance include:

  • Muscle weakness, especially on one side of the body

  • Loss of sensation or inaccurate sensation, making it difficult to tell when your foot is properly placed

  • Ataxia – inability to properly control the movement of limbs, for instance, moving inadvertently, not moving smoothly, or not moving on command

  • Concentration difficulty, which can make it mentally exhausting to concentrate for long on walking or coordinating movement

  • Vision impairment, which may make it difficult to judge distances, thus preventing proper foot drop or causing the patient to bump into things

  • Spatial neglect or inattention, which refers to the brain’s lack of awareness of a part of the body or inability to sense when leaning or standing erect

  • Vertigo, dizziness

In addition to these stroke-induced conditions, medications can also cause side effects that may affect movement, coordination, and balance.

Evidence from aquatic intervention studies

A meta-analysis of 31 studies, including 28 random-control tests, found strong evidence that aquatic intervention improves lower extremity muscle strength and gait during the subacute phase of recovery and moderate evidence that it improves cardiovascular fitness, gait, muscle activity and strength, proprioception (awareness of one’s movement), pain, and walking endurance in the chronic phase of stroke recovery. This improvement is compared to both control groups, those who received no therapy and those who received land-based therapy, such as physical and occupational therapy.

Definitions of the stages of recovery vary, but the subacute phase generally refers to the period of active recovery, within weeks or the first few months after the stroke, while the chronic phase is after about 6 months. This meta-analysis shows that continued improvement is possible if appropriate and ongoing effort is applied.

Obviously, a stroke patient should discuss aquatic therapy with his or her medical team, who will be able to refer the patient to a qualified aquatic therapist. The therapist would then design a therapy regimen unique to the patient.

Continued intervention can have a major impact on continued recovery from the effects of a stroke, along with following the doctor’s advice regarding any necessary lifestyle changes to avoid another stroke. A Neuralert stroke detection wristband may be a part of that program. This cutting-edge technology provides early detection of a possible stroke, sending a message to the medical team to start immediate evaluation to determine if stroke treatment is necessary. Quick action in the earliest stages of a stroke has been shown to save lives and decrease the severity of damage caused by stroke. Ask your doctor if Neuralert would be a good addition to your post-stroke plan.