Pool Therapy Beats Physical Therapy for Chronic Low Back Pain

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Pool therapy seemed to have a greater influence than physical therapy on pain, function, quality of life, sleep quality, and mental state. (© ajr_images/Getty Images)

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Aquatic (pool) therapy and physical therapy are two treatments that can reduce pain. But which is better for chronic low back pain? A small randomized trial published online Jan. 3, 2022, by JAMA Network Open suggests that buoyancy has the edge. Researchers took a group of 113 people with chronic low back pain, ages 18 to 65, and divided them into two groups. The people in one group had two 60-minute physical therapy sessions per week; the others took part in two 60-minute sessions of pool exercises per week. After 12 weeks, about half of the people in the pool therapy group showed an improvement of two to 5 points in their pain scores (depending on the scale), compared with only 21% or fewer in the physical therapy group. And a year later, the pool exercisers still felt better than the land exercisers. Researchers say pool therapy seemed to have a greater influence than physical therapy on pain, function, quality of life, sleep quality, and mental state.

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