One of the problems when someone is afflicted with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome or CRPS is that the affected limb needs to exercised to lower the pain, but the pain can keep the affected limb from being exercised. It can be a viscious circle causing much frustration for the patient, but the limb must continue being utilized in order to put CRPS into remission or at least slow down the progression of the disease. Disuse of the limb can worsen muscle atrophy, decrease bone density, lower blood flow and lower the overall health of the individual.
Always get your doctor’s approval prior to any form of treatment.
Aquatic therapy is exercise performed in a pool or deep body of water. The therapeutic benefit from pool therapy for all types of conditions including CRPS should not be understated. Public pools, YMCA locations or physical therapy centers are great places to go for this, but be aware they may have different water temperatures, so prior to entering the pool, test the water temperature is suitable to your skin sensitivity. A good idea is to take your medications for pain prior to going the pool for the first time until you know how it will feel on your limb.
Pool therapy is not only good for the body but for the mind also. It gets us out of the house and into a positive, reinforcing environment for CRPS patients to feel ‘safe’ in. It can be done alone, with a group or with a physical therapist, making it easy to be done on your individual schedule. It can also a lot of fun too.
One of the more important factors why pool therapy works so well for CRPS patients is when the body is immersed in water, it will actually dull the sense of pain felt by our nerves. The nervous system has a network of nerve endings in the skin and muscles that can respond to the slightest stimulus. Under a constant stimulus, such as pressure from water that the body is not used to, the nervous system will automatically dull the reticular system, which is the part of the brain responsible for dealing with tactile sensory neurons. It is in this way that makes pool therapy one of the easiest ways to exercise the affected limb for CRPS patients. If there is a whirlpool where you decide to go for pool therapy, they are a tool for desensitizing the limb.
In addition to a dulled sense of pain, the water, because it is denser than air, will compress on the affected limb causing a massaging effect and through this effect will increase blood flow. As you move through the water, the resistance you feel will help to increase muscle mass and rebuild muscle memory.
Pool therapy may seem a bit overwhelming at times. As a CRPS sufferer, you will sometimes feel uncomfortable near crowds due to the fear of someone hitting your affected limb. Do not be afraid or shy when it comes to pool therapy, you are not the only one who has ever needed therapy to help themselves physically. For the first few times, you go, find a quiet time to go or find the quiet end of the pool or go with a friend or family member. Whatever you need to do to make it happen, should happen.