Aquatic Therapy Specialist
Aquatic therapy is an umbrella term used to describe water-based therapeutic exercises designed to improve functional activities. The Aquatic Therapy and Rehab Institute specifically defines aquatic therapy as “the use of water and specifically designed activity by qualified personnel to aid in the restoration, extension, maintenance and quality of function for persons with acute, transient, or chronic disabilities, syndromes or diseases.” Patients with a variety of injuries and conditions benefit from the freedom of movement made possible by the buoyancy of water; this makes aquatic therapy a beneficial adjunctive therapy that does not create additional stress and strain on joints. Aquatic therapy should not be confused with aquatic fitness (aquatic exercise focused on overall general health and wellness) or adapted aquatics (aquatic activity for persons with disabilities). Health care providers specializing in this area are typically credentialed in other subdisciplines, such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, or athletic training, and have sought additional training in the application of aquatic therapy.
Where You Will Work
Aquatic therapy specialists work in traditional outpatient rehabilitation centers, hospitals, and sports medicine clinics that have access to a full-size or therapeutic-size pool. The aquatic therapy specialist is considered an add-on certification for other health care providers such as athletic trainers and physical therapists. Thus it is difficult to speculate exactly how many individuals have obtained this certification. As well, although salary data is not available for these professionals, it can be assumed that salary ranges are similar to other health care providers employed in sports medicine rehabilitation clinics.
What You Will Do
Aquatic therapy specialists work with a variety of patients using aquatic-based exercises as an adjunct to traditional therapeutic interventions. For example, it is common for physical therapists to integrate aquatic therapy into the walking progression for patients recovering from total knee replacement surgery because the buoyancy of the water allows for an earlier progression than does walking on land. Aquatic therapy specialists incorporate principles of water and physics into the development of therapeutic exercise protocols for maximum patient outcomes.
Whom You Will Work With
As mentioned previously, aquatic therapy specialists are typically credentialed health care providers in other areas and thereby work in collaboration with other physical therapists, occupational therapists, athletic trainers, and exercise physiologists. They work with patients who have orthopedic conditions ranging from total hip replacement to rotator cuff repair as well as general health conditions such as cardiovascular disease.
What Personal Skills and Abilities You Will Need to Succeed
Aquatic therapy specialists must be good communicators and enjoy working one on one with patients. They must have a high level of creativity in order to determine how land-based rehabilitation exercises can be modified for performance in water.
What Education and Certifications You Will Need
There are various certifications in the aquatics industry but only one that targets aquatic therapy. The Aquatic Therapy and Rehab Institute (ATRI) certification verifies that therapists are competent and knowledgeable in the industry standards for aquatic therapy and rehabilitation (see figure 6.2). Eligibility to take the ATRI certification exam includes completing 15 hours of education in aquatic therapy, rehabilitation, or aquatic therapeutic exercise education. Therapists can complete this education through hands-on or online courses.
Because aquatic therapy specialists are typically also certified or licensed as other health care providers, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not specifically track employment of professionals in this area. In addition, insurance companies are less likely to reimburse clinics for aquatic therapy services, so the market demand for specialists has declined in recent years. However, with the passage of federal health care reform it is possible that this trend will reverse and the demand for aquatic therapy specialists will rise.
Read more from Careers in Sport, Fitness, and Exercise, edited by American Kinesiology Association.