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Make a splash with adaptive swimming

Make a splash with adaptive swimming

Summer has finally arrived and we love to hear about our patient’s, and their family’s, fun summer plans. It comes as no surprise to us that water is typically involved in many of these summer plans. I’m sure it will also come as no surprise to you that we view swimming as a little more than simply a fun, recreational activity. Although we want children to continue to view it as summer fun, knowing the benefits of this activity may also prompt parents and caregivers to make swimming a priority while we still have these warm, Michigan days!

As shared in many of our blogs, cerebral palsy is prevalent throughout our patient population here at Crawl Walk. We treat individuals with a wide range of physical abilities, and knowing that an activity as simple as swimming has the potential to benefit all of them, makes us so happy!

Why choose aquatic therapy?

If you or a family member have a difficult time fitting an HEP (Home Exercise Program) into the business of everyday life, consider swimming as an option to allow for fun and therapy at the same time. Also, if you prefer a more structured atmosphere, aquatic therapy or swimming classes in your area may be an appropriate fit for you and your family, allowing swimming to be a year-round activity. Some of the ways in which swimming can benefit an individual with cerebral palsy include: providing their body resistance without the use of weights, decreasing pain and tension in the muscles/joints, encourage a wider range of movements and positions, improve cardiovascular health and decrease occurrence of post-exercise discomfort(1).

Is there a standout benefit to swimming?

Of all the listed benefits above, providing resistance is definitely my favorite, as it allows for resisting motion in all planes and directions. If you have visited us at Crawl Walk, you understand our love for adding resistance to tasks. This resistance is creating additional work for the muscles of the body, all while a child is playing! What a wonderful concept! Through adding resistance, we can continue to create work that is fun. This creativity takes a lot of planning, and it is what we do every day at the clinic. While we as therapists are used to this, it can often be overwhelmingly difficult for parents and caregivers during an HEP to implement correct resistance in a variety of summer activities. That’s why we want to encourage swimming as it can take a lot of stress out of this idea, while still offering plenty of good exercise.

A personal testimony

As parents and caregivers, it is understandable that you may be nervous to introduce swimming to a child with a physical disability. I had the privilege of speaking to a mother who has a son with cerebral palsy and she shared their positive experiences with swimming. She shared how it benefits her son both physically and emotionally to participate in swimming, stating that “he just wants to be a kid.” She said the simple boost in his confidence and ability to move more independently is a remarkable benefit of swimming. She also noted the decrease in muscle tone that he experiences following his time spent swimming. So not only does swimming offer benefits during the activity but it can have lasting effects on muscle tone, tension and pain. Equipment to offer increased support while in the water is also an option to help adapt their water-related activities.

No swimming pool? No problem!

For those of you who do not have direct access to a swimming pool, a local beach or a lake can be utilized as well for swimming, with proper safety precautions of course. I would like to mention, however, that temperature control is not available when swimming in a lake, so be sure to control the time spent in the water if it is a little cold.

The Daisy Project is in the process of adding beach accessible mats, called Mobimat®, to Stony Creek Metropark beach, which would allow a wheelchair or stroller to access the beach all the way down to the water. These ladies do amazing things, so please keep a look out for more information as this is put in place! If you are not familiar with The Daisy Project, you can look them up on Facebook to stay up-to-date on their latest projects or to contact them directly. Additionally, Brandenburg Park has an outdoor, adaptive splash pad that is right off the lake that everyone should check out!

Now go make a splash and start swimming!

Kendell Myers, PT, DPT

Physical Therapist


(1) http://www.cerebralpalsy.org/about-cerebral-palsy/treatment/therapy/aqua-therapy







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