Medical Matters > Shall I give hydrotherapy a go?

ME Essential Spring 2017

Question

My physiotherapist has suggested that I might like to use of the hydroils therapy pool at a local hospital.

I have been making fairly steady progress over the past year (with the occasional short relapses) and used to really enjoy swimming — something that I haven’t done since becoming ill with ME three years ago.

The physio says that the changing facilities are good, the water is warm, the atmosphere is relaxed and nobody is encouraged to do anything that they do not feel comfortable with. So why not give it a try?

Answer

Hydrotherapy in a warm (but not too hot) pool can be of benefit for some people with ME/CFS in relation to activity management — especially when someone has reached a point where there is a degree of improvement and you want to do something more active than just walking.

Hydrotherapy may also help if widespread muscle or joint pain and/ or stiffness is a problem. Being in the water can also increase blood flow, and therefore oxygen transmission to important cells in organs and skin.

On a personal basis, I like swimming and, once my own ME/CFS had reached a point where I could cope with some gentle swimming, I have tried to incorporate this into my own activity/pacing management programme on a fairly regular basis. However, it's important to note that hydrotherapy, especially in a hospital environment, is probably going to involve exercises and activities in the pool which are (in theory) structured to your condition — so any medical input should involve guidance from a health professional who fully understands ME/CFS, along with your individual circumstances and limitations. So I would probably give hydrotherapy a cautious try.

But before doing so, discuss with the physiotherapist exactly what sort of water-based activities s/he is planning and don't try to do too much in the first few sessions. You don't have to continue if you don't find it helpful.

Incidentally, there is quite a lot of evidence to support the use of hydrotherapy for pain management. This is a link to an abstract from a research study involving people with multiple sclerosis: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3138085/

It would be interesting to hear from anyone with ME/CFS who has experience of using a hydrotherapy pool for either activity or pain management.

MEDICAL DISCLAIMER

Medical Matters is for information purposes only. The answers provided by Dr Shepherd and the ME Association’s other expert advisers should not be construed as medical advice. We recommend that any information you deem relevant is discussed with your GP as soon as possible. It is important to obtain advice from a GP who is in charge of your clinical care, who knows you well, and who can consider other likely causes for symptoms. Seek personalised medical advice whenever a new symptom arises, or an existing symptom worsens. Don't assume that new or worsened symptoms are a result of having ME/CFS.

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