Some of this decade’s most important aquatics advancements may be attributed to polio. Dr. Bruce Becker is leading groundbreaking research on the health benefits of water, and it was his childhood
experience with the illness that first introduced him to the
therapeutic effects of aquatics. Becker, a clinical professor at
of Washington’s Department of Rehabilitation Medicine and
a research professor at Washington State University, was treated at what is
now Sister Kenny Rehabilitation Institute in Minneapolis
— and he still remembers the therapy pool there.
His professional interest in aquatic therapy began when he started
working with elite athletes through the Nike Olympic Development
Program in the mid-1980s.
“It blew me away how fast they recovered [with aquatic
therapy],” he recalls. After applying the same therapies with
his traditional rehab patients, Becker became “an early
adopter” and began actively promoting aquatic therapy.
However, he ran into a significant roadblock. There was little
clinical research to support his results with patients. After
concluding that he’d either need to encourage others to do
research or do it himself, Becker began to look for funding. It was
five years ago that he first developed a relationship with the
“When I first spoke to the NSPF board, I don’t know if
they really understood the tremendous public health value of more
broadly encouraging aquatic participation from a public health
standpoint,” Becker recalls.
Now, approximately five years later, he’s heading up the
National Aquatics & Sports Medicine Institute at
WSU, established in 2008 through his relationship with NSPF.
It’s Becker’s hope that the institute becomes
“the center of the universe in terms of research in this
With Becker at the helm, that’s not out of the question.
Completed research has documented the benefits of immersion, and
further research will seek to explain why activity in the water is
good for the human body.
A graduate of Tulane Medical School, Becker says that early on he
encountered skepticism, but as the body of research grows,
he’s seeing more acceptance of hydrotherapy and aquatic
fitness. In the end, it’s the results that keep him
“It has been breathtaking to me to watch the positive changes
in the folks I’ve worked with,” he explains.