An article by exercise physiologist, Jennifer Smallridge.

No matter the weather, getting moving in water is wonderful for your joint pain. In summer, sliding into the cool water of an outdoor pool or ocean is soothing, and in winter there is nothing better than the warm support of a hydrotherapy pool.

Completing exercise in the water, known as hydrotherapy, helps ease the friction in joints by taking some of the pressure off the body, using a force known as buoyancy. It explains why people feel weightless in the water, and why doing aerobics in the pool can hurt less than on the land. Being in waist-deep water reduces forces on the joints by 50%, and being in neck-deep water takes 90% of the weight from the body.

One particular study found that completing water exercise twice per week for 4 weeks significantly decreased osteoarthritis pain in the hips and knees, and improved functional status.

The following program, drawn from the research, has been designed to be completed in waist-deep water, focusing on hips and knees, with no additional equipment. Kickboards and pool noodles can be added for further resistance - feel free to get creative!

A physiotherapist or exercise physiologist can prescribe you a specific hydrotherapy program for your needs. This is an example program only, and you should always seek medical advice before commencing a new exercise program.

Warm up (5 minutes):

  • Walking forwards and backwards for 2 minutes
  • Sidestepping for 2 minutes
  • Hip circles for 30 seconds each way
  • Leg swings for 30 seconds each side

Resistance exercises (10 minutes):

  • Squats, 2 x 10
  • Calf raises, 2 x 10
  • Lunges, 2 x 10
  • Marching, 2 x 10
  • Standing on one leg, 2 x 10 seconds each side
  • Side leg lifts, 2 x 10 

Stretch and cool down (5 minutes):

  • Walking for 1 minute
  • Calf stretch for 30 seconds each side
  • Thigh stretch for 30 seconds each side
  • Hamstring stretch for 30 seconds each side


Sekome K, Maddocks S. The short-term effects of hydrotherapy on pain and self-perceived functional status in individuals living with osteoarthritis of the knee joint. The South African journal of physiotherapy. 2019;75(1).






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