From the ancient Roman baths to the sophisticated aquatic therapy treatment centers of today, water is undeniably cathartic. But it?s only been in the last 20 years that we?ve begun to truly understand and utilize its healing powers.

According to Ruth Sova, who founded the Aquatic Therapy and Rehab Institute in 1993, the American Red Cross has offered a formal aquatic therapy program for children for many years but it?s now more widely offered for all ages through a variety of operators and organizations. Today, popular aquatic therapy methods include Bad Ragaz, the Burdenko Method, Ai Chi and Watsu.

Experts say the last two decades have seen significant growth in the availability and quality of aquatic therapy, and a big part of that can be attributed to basic consumer demand. ?[Growth in aquatic therapy] has happened [in large part] because it?s so incredibly effective, and the public has recognized it,? says Dr. Bruce Becker, a Washington State University professor and director of WSU?s National Aquatic and Sports Medicine Institute.

According to Sova, therapists are now recommending their patients get in the water sooner, and the United States military also has embraced aquatic therapy for injured soldiers and post-traumatic stress disorder victims.

One reason aquatic therapy has become more accepted is that formal research is proving just how effective it can be, and with more formal research, a greater number of doctors and insurance carriers are accepting aquatic therapy. Dr. Becker has published groundbreaking work on the effects of water temperature on various autonomic systems, including heart rate. His work is helping to establish ideal temperatures for various therapeutic activities.

This growth in aquatic therapy has ultimately affected the industry in several ways. Sova says these include:

  • Creating a new source of revenue; therapy pools are generally profitable
  • Increasing pool temperatures to accommodate a variety of therapeutic uses
  • Development of new equipment, some of which has passed over to the athletic swimming arena
  • A need for greater attention to sanitation needs. Some aquatic therapy patients those with traumatic brain injuries, for example may not have the bowel control that a normally functioning adult would.