Mesothelioma treatment comes in many different forms, from traditional medical treatments involving drugs and surgery to holistic remedies meant to help mesothelioma patients cope with their condition. One area gaining popularity in cancer and mesothelioma treatment is aquatic therapy. As a mesothelioma treatment, aquatic therapy has multiple benefits. Patients can gain strength, stamina, and help themselves in the fight against fatigue. Family members can support a patient by participating along with them.
What is Aquatic Therapy as Mesothelioma Treatment?
When you think of aquatic therapy, you may envision a person swimming a grueling lap after lap workout that appears to be a marathon rather than a race. You may also think of other water activities that provide gentle resistance without the dangers that high impact land exercises can represent. In either instance, marathon workout or gentle resistance activities, many people often associate aquatic therapy or water activities with older adults or the older generation. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
According to the Aquahab Physical Therapy program, aquatic therapy is a regimen that promotes physical function, motion and flexibility. Sessions usually take place in warm water, which makes a person feel more buoyant and reduces the force of gravity acting against the body. Aquatic therapy is an excellent form of exercise for any age group, athletic skill level, or anyone looking for pain relief. Aqua therapy is often prescribed to arthritic patients, cancer patients, and athletes rehabilitating serious injuries. It can also be valuable to people suffering chronic pain or persons who develop lymphedema.
And according to the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, patients who are able to remain physically active (to the best of their abilities) throughout chemotherapy, radiation treatments, or surgical procedures experience beneficial results. The benefits include reduced treatment related fatigue, increase in strength and flexibility, improved movement fluidity, as well as helping to control weight gain or loss.
Benefits of Aquatic Therapy as Mesothelioma Treatment
Experts from the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City list several potential benefits of aquatic therapy for mesothelioma patients:
- Better circulation, which can reduce swelling.
- Decrease in pain.
- Easier transition to aerobic exercises that may be more difficult to do on dry land.
- Environmental stimulation, which can be fun and a real boost to your morale.
- Social aspect of aquatic therapy allows people suffering from pain or disease an opportunity to work together and create connections.
- Because aquatic therapy is fun, not often associated with more difficult and painful land based workouts, the patients often don’t realize they are working while building strength and stamina.
Surprisingly, nearly any exercise will maintain the body’s ability to take in and use oxygen, which is important when you have a respiratory disease like mesothelioma. Also, keeping your muscles and joints strong is an important aspect of living independently.
Fighting Cancer Fatigue Using Aquatic Therapy
Fatigue can be brought on by chemotherapy, loss of appetite, radiation therapy, mesothelioma surgery, or anything else a patient may experience and is often the most distressing symptom affecting people with mesothelioma. In the worst case scenarios, mesothelioma-related fatigue is an unrelenting exhaustion that drains a patient and makes it difficult for a person to carry out activities of daily living let alone enjoy life.
Certified cancer exercise specialist Liz McDonald, a Director of Therapy Services and Cardiac Rehabilitation, states: “Chemotherapy medication settles in your major organs. But if you can get up and get your heart beating faster and get your lungs going, aquatic therapy can help push the medication out into your system. You don’t have those long-lasting side effects of the medication.”
Fighting fatigue through aquatic therapy can be an integral part of a mesothelioma patient’s exercise program.
Aquatic Therapy Workout Routines
The Mayo Clinic, the world renouned medical research and treatment center, is a strong proponent of aquatic therapy for cancer and mesothelioma patients. They cite improved heart health, muscular endurance and strength, and reduced stress as reasons to consider aquatic therapy. For those hesitant about going in the water, you can even perform aquatic therapy without being able to swim.
The best introduction to aquatic therapy is by walking in water that is waist-high. The Mayo Clinic suggests walking across the pool while swinging your arms as you would when walking on land. The best form for this initial exercise is to keep your back straight, avoid walking on your tiptoes, and attempt to tighten your abdominal muscles to avoid leaning forward or to the side and thus losing balance. Here is a list of aquatic therapy exercises provided by the Mayo Clinic:
- Deep Water Walking with Hand Webs: Hand webs provide a duck web like glove for your hands which helps increase resistance while you stride through the water.
- Arm Exercise Using Hand Webs: Like a weigh lifter’s dumbbell curling motion, slowly lift your hands palms facing up, from your side keeping your elbows tucked next to your body, to the surface of the water. Return your hands to your side and repeat.
- Arm Exercise Using Water Weights: Water weights are foam dumbbells that create resistance underwater. Using the same motion and technique used for hand web arm exercises, lift the water weights up until you hit the surface of the water. On the return trip, rotate the water weights so your palms are facing down toward the bottom of the pool.
- Resistance Exercise Using a Kickboard: One of the best resistance exercises for upper body strength is to use a kickboard to move water from one side of your body to the other. Begin by standing up straight and tightening your abdominal muscles. Next, extend your right arm and hold the kickboard on each end vertically so the surface of the kickboard is on its side. Once in place, keep your left elbow close to your body and move the kickboard toward the centerline of your body with a sweeping motion. Once you have completed your repetitions change your grip to work the other side with your left arm extended and repeat the steps.
- Leg Exercise Using a Noodle: A noodle is a long cylinder shaped flotation device similar in shape to a tube. This exercise is especially good for strengthening your quadriceps muscles of the legs. Begin by tying the noodle around your right foot. Standing in waist-deep water, position yourself with your back against the wall of the pool. Place your arms outward and hold onto the edge of the wall of the pool for stability. Lift and straighten your right leg out in front of you parallel to the bottom of the pool. Then flex your right knee to a 90 degree angle downward while keeping your foot off of the bottom of the pool. The motion should look like you are kicking outward in front of you then retracting your leg back. Remember to move at a moderate pace to get the full effect of the water’s resistance. Repeat this motion until fatigue sets in and then change legs.
Remember that aquatic therapy isn’t necessarily right for everyone. You shouldn’t practice aquatic therapy if you have problems with incontinence, cardiac failure, fevers, infectious diseases, seizure disorders or open wounds. Consideration for your safety and that of other participants is important.
If you do feel comfortable moving forward and trying an aquatic therapy regimen, talk to your mesothelioma healthcare team about your options. They may be able to refer you to a program, or have tips for exercises and drills. Your doctor will also tell you if you’re physically fit enough to handle exercise.