Public Relations  >  News Center  >  News Releases  >  June 2017  >  June 29, 2017  >  Ready, set, get wet: Creighton clinic's aquatic physical therapy makes a splash with young patients
Ready, set, get wet: Creighton clinic's aquatic physical therapy makes a splash with young patients

Hesitant at first, the little girl approached the small, lapping waves of the zero-entry pool at Armbrust YMCA in West Omaha.

The girl dipped a toe and then, ushered by Stacy Wong, BS’07, DPT’10, an instructor in Creighton University’s School of Pharmacy and Health Professions and a physical therapist in the Creighton Pediatric Therapy Clinic, she embraced the water and for the next 90 minutes, she would be a bundle of smiles, laughs and energy as her physical therapy session took to the pool.

For three years, the Creighton Pediatric Therapy Clinic has offered aquatic therapy sessions with the hosting aid of its community partner, the Armbrust YMCA. This specialized form of therapy is especially beneficial for children, who often view time in the pool less as work than play. And it also creates a setting apart from dry land, where buoyancy and resistance provide more exercises and comfortability for patients.

“The pool, in general, is a great environment for therapy,” said Wong, who works with patients in the water three times a week throughout the year. “For kids, there’s an added level of support. They know they’re not going to fall in the water, their bodies move more freely. There are just conditions we have in the water that we can’t get on land.”

Wong is quick to point out, however, that what’s done in the water necessarily translates to land-based exercises and overall function. The resistance water affords aquatic therapy patients helps build strength, balance and endurance. Water also offers a novel tactile environment for children, and some of the exercises Creighton therapists use put children more at ease with aquatic surroundings.

“A lot of our activities are aimed at asking, ‘What is our function on land and how can we translate what’s happening in the pool to a land-based setting?’” said Jennifer O’Loughlin, DPT’16, a pediatric therapy resident with the clinic. “We’ve added a lot of subtle challenges for the kids that build strength, core stability and stamina. But really, at the end of the day, it’s fun. They get a lot out of it and work hard, but they’re playing, too.”

In a session in mid-June, O’Loughlin worked with a 5-year-old girl on balance and strength, having the girl walk, jump and skip along a line at the bottom of the pool. With each circuit, the girl placed an item on a Mr. Potato-Head toy or played another game. The youngster also retrieved rings in the water and exercised her legs from a sitting position on the pool deck.

Across the pool, Wong helped her patient float and glide about in the water. The therapist also used a floating mat on which the young girl balanced and rolled. Occasionally, Wong and an assistant, Megan Haas, would create an arch with the mat under which all three would float, demonstrating lessons of object permanence, the properties of over and under, and different sensory feelings, including the slight echo and the dripping water created beneath the mat.

“We get a lot of input with every movement in the water,” Wong said. “And the kids can feel it, too. They create their own sense of balance in the water and they work through those challenges that we create for them. It’s been a huge benefit for our patients and we’ve been very happy to partner with the community here at the Armbrust YMCA.”

Haas and Allison White, who assisted O’Loughlin, are both third-year students in Creighton’s Department of Physical Therapy with an interest in pediatrics. White has been working at the clinic for more than a year, assisting in aquatic therapy almost each week during that time, while Haas was experiencing work in the pool for the first time.

White said the community environment at the YMCA — the pool remains open for swimming to other people while aquatic therapy is in session — coupled with the fun of the pool have shown her the advantages of working in water.

“It’s a really beneficial play environment for the kids and it gives therapists a chance to be more hands-on, too,” White said. “What you might do on land in the clinic doesn’t always give that close contact and support that you can get in the water. You can stay at the exercises longer in the water, too, and the kids will just keep playing, not really knowing that they’re also working on balance and strength. Plus, there are other kids in the pool swimming and playing. It doesn’t feel like you’re in a clinic or a doctor’s office. You’re just one of the kids, doing what kids do.”

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