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Aquatic-Based Therapy in Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation: Effective Yet Underutilized


Purpose of review

The objective of this article is to review aquatic therapy, a historically effective yet highly underutilized therapeutic modality, in order to demonstrate that it is a valuable therapeutic tool in patients with spinal cord injuries (SCIs) and that it is an intervention that provides an environment of support and resistance which elicits motor performance improvements for patients with SCI.

Recent findings

Aquatic therapy has been shown to improve mobility and quality of life and lessen spasticity and pain. It is highly effective in promoting overall recovery from SCI. Recent research shows that more people with SCI, particularly those who were perhaps previously excluded (colostomy bags, incontinence, mechanical ventilators), can participate in aquatic therapy interventions.


Although the use of aquatic therapy has been shown to improve function, more research is required to thoroughly investigate it and to develop protocols and safety measures that increase the variety of patients with access to this therapy. Patients with spinal cord dysfunction should be given access to aquatic therapy in their local communities and rehabilitation centers so that the benefits of skilled aquatic-based therapies can be more widely achieved and integrated. Accessible community pools provide a setting for recreation and exercise with family and attendants, thus promoting improvement and maintenance of skills.

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Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: •• Of major importance

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The authors thank Amy Kakitis-Fawley and Gerald M. Koller for their invaluable input and support. The authors also thank the Hugo W. Moser Research Institute at Kennedy Krieger, Kennedy Krieger Institute Aquatics Program, the Virginia and Lee Muhlhofer Fund, the VA Puget Sound Healthcare System Library, the VA Puget Sound Healthcare System Medical Media Library, and the SCI Therapy Department.

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Correspondence to Albert C. Recio.

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Albert C. Recio, Steven A. Stiens, and Eva Kubrova have no disclosures to declare.

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This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.

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This article is part of the Topical Collection on Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation

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Recio, A.C., Stiens, S.A. & Kubrova, E. Aquatic-Based Therapy in Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation: Effective Yet Underutilized. Curr Phys Med Rehabil Rep 5, 108–112 (2017).

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  • Aquatic therapy
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Rehabilitation
  • Spasticity
  • Rehabilitative intervention
  • Environment
  • Disablement
  • Disability
  • Community
  • Reintegration