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What is aquatherapy?

Aquatherapy is a skilled treatment method used by occupational therapists and physical therapists to enhance your child’s functional abilities. The warm, buoyant water enables your child to feel free and have fun in therapy, in a natural environment.

It is an excellent supplement to land-based occupational therapy and/or physical therapy, providing one-on-one treatment sessions. It uses safe and efficient methods to achieve your child’s individualized short-term goals. Aquatherapy is an effective way to address many types of conditions: sensory, neurological and orthopedic. Aquatherapy, while performed in a swimming pool, is not swimming lessons. Additionally, you do not need to know how to swim to participate in aquatherapy.

How does aquatherapy work?

Through the combination of water principles and proper therapeutic techniques, therapy can achieve desired effects including improved:

  • Joint mobility
  • Muscle flexibility
  • Head & trunk control
  • Blood supply to muscles
  • Attention span & sensory motor integration
  • Respiratory rate
  • Circulation
  • Symmetry, strength and endurance

The psychological benefits include improved self-esteem, confidence, and motivation!


Green Hill Therapy Surf and Turf: Weekly Hippotherapy and Aquatherapy

Respiration and Speech:

Pairing the movements of the horse with the freedom of movement in the water is a fun and effective combination for many of our clients. Pelvic positioning achieved while straddling the horse automatically triggers muscles supporting the diaphragm to contract, making respiration easier. Better respiration means more oxygen to a growing brain!

In the pool, water presses into the body (giving support to the diaphragm) and provides a natural resistance for strengthening the diaphragm and rib-cage muscles during regular breathing. In the water, kids must work about 25% harder for this to occur due to the pressure of the water.


Conquering a fear of falling is an important skill that expands play and mobility opportunities. It takes a lot of balance and core strength to remain sitting on a moving horse. Balance is constantly challenged by swimming or bobbing in the water. The anti-gravity property of water delays the fall, giving a fearful child time to react and recover OR giving the sensory seeking child a chance to safely crash (Cannonball!).

Emotional Control and Attention:

The warmth, texture and rhythmic movement of the horse provides calming sensations, so does the 92 ° temperature and deep pressure of the water.

Providing these therapies as a pair, your child’s therapist utilizes the movement of the horse and the pressure of the water to create treatment plans. The plans may address the same goals but provide different challenges for your child. Each subsequent session can build upon movements or experiences learned either while on the horse or in the water, effectively helping your child to reach their goals.

Jane Harper, OTR/L, B.A., M.A, B.S. Occuptional Therapist at Green Hill Therapy

Green Hill Therapy