Aquatic therapy is the scientific practice of physical therapy in an aquatic environment. You or a loved one may benefit from aquatic physical therapy if you have some form of neuromuscular or musculoskeletal disorder that restricts traditional physical therapy practices. During aquatic therapy session, the buoyancy and resistance of the water helps individuals increase strength in joints and muscles, gain balance, and restore posture without putting undue stress on the body.

Aquatic physical therapy isn’t a new concept, but many people are unaware of the benefits. If your health care provider has suggested aquatic therapy for you, you may want more information about the process itself, and whether your Medicare insurance will help cover the cost?

What is Aquatic Physical Therapy?

Aquatic therapy is a form of physical therapy that a physical therapist practices in an aquatic environment, like a heated therapy pool. A physical therapist’s assistant under the supervision of a physical therapist may also provide the therapy.

Because aquatic physical therapy takes place in warm water, it is ideal for people of all ages who have musculoskeletal or neuromuscular conditions, cardiovascular, or pulmonary disease. Physical rehabilitation in this environment can improve physical function after instances of illness, injury, or disabilities.

Benefits of Aquatic Therapy

Aquatic therapy is especially beneficial for people who cannot tolerate weight bearing exercise, or for those experiencing neuromuscular or musculoskeletal disorders like fibromyalgia. Therapy in the water decreases force on joints and, in turn, reduces the occurrence of inflammation in the body. During aquatic therapy sessions, exercising against water resistance gently strengthens joints and muscles, builds endurance, and assists people in gaining balance, posture, and gait.

People who have orthopedic problems, arthritis, impaired balance disorders, chronic back pain, or other forms of chronic pain may benefit from aquatic therapy. Research has shown that aquatic therapy provides relief from the symptoms of these conditions and helps patients regain joint motion, strength, and mobility.

Before recommending aquatic therapy, your physical therapist will evaluate your needs and determine the best treatment plan and goals for your circumstances. Most sessions run between 30 and 45 minutes depending on your diagnosis and individual therapy plan. You do not need to know how to swim before beginning aquatic therapy.

Hydrotherapy has been around since 2400 B.C. when the ancient Egyptians used it for a large variety of therapeutic purposes. Today, your Medicare Part B or Medicare Advantage plan may help cover medically necessary aquatic therapy.

Medicare Coverage for Aquatic Therapy

If you have Original Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance) or are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan (Part C), your Medicare coverage includes medically necessary services, such as physical therapy, and supplies in an outpatient setting.  Aquatic physical therapy is an acceptable form of physical therapy according to Medicare.

With Original Medicare Part B, you will likely pay 20 percent coinsurance after you meet your annual Part B deductible, which is $185.00 in 2019. Medicare Advantage plans are required to cover the same benefits as Original Medicare Parts A and B, but many include additional coverage.  Check with your plan to learn all the details of aquatic physical therapy sessions coverage.

If your health care provider suggests that you get aquatic therapy, make sure that your provider and facility are Medicare-approved and accept assignment. According to Medicare, outpatient therapy must take place at:

  • Comprehensive outpatient rehabilitation facilities (CORFs)
  • Therapist or doctor’s offices
  • Skilled nursing facility if the patient is there as an outpatient

Physical therapists can provide aquatic therapy at their office, private facility or at a rented facility. If a public pool is used, it must be used solely for the purpose of the patient’s private appointment at that time.

Related articles:

What is Medicare? Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)