Aquatic Therapy for the Female Athlete
Why do we want to get athletes into the pool? The aquatic environment is a great place to put athletes, and especially the female athlete because there are certain injuries that are more prevalent in the female population. Females are at higher risk for ACL tear, stress fractures, patellofemoral pain, and ITB pain – all of which can easily be treated in the pool.
Why are females more at risk? There are several factors that contribute to risk for injury, such as jumping style, wider pelvis leading to changes in the angle of the hip and knee, knees coming in which effects take-off and landing and leads to an increase in force and stress on the bones. Another factor is increased ligament laxity in females during certain times of the month in combination with increased force leads to increase risk of ACL tear. Females must work harder to overcome these forces and stresses. There are differences between quad and HS strength ratio in which females overuse quads which can contribute to patellofemoral pain; glute weakness also makes women work harder to put the pelvis in a good position to prevent PFP.
Aquatic therapy can be used post injury and as preventative care. The water allows athletes to train using a similar movement pattern they would on land for their sport with less impact forces and more off-loading of the joint due to buoyancy of water – decreasing the risk of repetitive loading on the musculoskeletal system. Properties of water such as viscosity, drag, and turbulence all creates more resistance, which can lead to pin-pointing potential weaknesses that are typically not observed on land. Resistance can be modified by changing speed and/or increasing surface area. Water properties also allow for decreased swelling, decrease pain, improve ROM, and building strength. Doing repetitive movements in the pool allows for the development of muscle memory, thus during the transition to land decreases risk of injury.
Overall, the aquatic environment offers many benefits to athletes, especially female athletes due to higher risk of injury. Utilizing it for injury recovery or preventative treatment can help to improve strength for better outcomes on the field!