Text Size





Stroke Smart Magazine

July/August 2008

Printer Friendly Version

Pool Time: Stroke-Friendly Water Rehabilitation

By Pete Lewis

Exercising in water provides many benefits for stroke survivors, regardless of their level
of ability.

Some exercises and movements are easier and safer in water than on dry land. Aquatic exercise is low impact, less stressful on joints and involves a lower risk of falling. And a fall in water is less likely to cause injury. Yet water provides resistance that enables people to build strength by performing simple movements.

“I have some patients with very little movement who stay in their wheelchair the entire time,” said JoAnn King, a physical therapist who does aquatic therapy with stroke survivors at Good Samaritan Hospital in Baltimore. “We work on sitting and balance. Out of water they may have no movement. But the buoyancy of the water enables them to move a little. It can be a real emotional boost for patients once they see that they have the ability to move.”

Exercising in water is effective in improving balance and gait, and increasing strength, endurance, flexibility, range of motion and cardiovascular fitness. Exercising in warm water also can ease chronic pain and reduce swelling in the feet and ankles.

Patients with more abilities may be able to participate in a group exercise program.

A University of British Columbia study found that stroke survivors enrolled in an eight-week, water-based exercise program showed a 22 percent improvement in cardiovascular fitness. They also improved walking speed and lower-body strength.

“I’ve seen improvements in strength, endurance and flexibility after just one class,” said Lisa Newport, a certified aquatic therapist who teaches a class for stroke survivors at the Drake Center in Cincinnati.

Newport’s students must be able to stand in chest-deep water, but some require a wheel chair on dry land. About half her class did some water-based physical therapy shortly after stroke, then progressed to her class to continue their rehabilitation.

“We push flotation devices through the water to build strength, do a lot of range-of-motion exercises for our shoulders and we shoot a lot of baskets,” Newport said. “I’ll hold their good arm to force them to use the side that’s been affected by the stroke.”

Both Newport and King said increased confidence is a major benefit to water-based rehab programs.

So if you’re looking for a way to get moving this summer, get in the water.


  • Ask your doctor or therapist to recommend an appropriate program.
  • Ask your local YMCA about special programs for stroke or arthritis patients; some stroke survivors may be able to participate in programs designed for arthritis patients.

*Before starting any exercise program, it’s important to be evaluated and get the approval from your doctor or physical therapist.



Stroke Smart Home | Subscribe to Stroke Smart

Get Involved

Stroke and You

Subscribe to StrokeSmart Now

Our Mission Statement

National Stroke Association’s mission is to reduce the incidence and impact of stroke by developing compelling education and programs focused on prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and support for all impacted by stroke.

National Stroke Association

9707 E. Easter Lane, Suite B
Centennial, CO 80112