Many people ask, “Why does AquaStretch work?
In summary, there are four basic explanations that may synergistically be interacting to account for the many physiological changes observed with AquaStretch exercising:
- The body’s enhanced flexibility in water;
- The use of variable “Stress Resistance”;
- The Fascial Adhesion Theory; and,
- Intuitive Movement.
To briefly summarize the primary physiological changes and benefits that have been observed, AquaStretch has consistently restored flexibility lost following prior injuries and accidents. It also consistently reduces chronic pain and movement pain, probably from stretching fascia between vertebra and other joint spaces, which then reduce nerve impingements. AquaStretch also consistently produces muscle relaxation, and sometimes profound relaxation, that may decrease muscle soreness following intense workouts, decrease anxiety, and improve sleep. AquaStretch has been observed intermittently to improve vascular function, hormonal imbalances, emotional dysfunctions, and cognitive behavior. As part of an athletic conditioning program, it may increase flexibility.
The first theoretical explanation for why AquaStretch works is simply that your body has enhanced flexibility in the water, in two ways. Because your body does not have to protect against gravity due to its buoyancy in water, your body can stretch in positions that it cannot stretch on land. In addition, your body can sustain stretches for much longer periods of endurance in the water because your muscles do not have to make as much effort as they do on land. For example, you can hold your arm parallel to the pool floor for hours with minimal effort because your arm can essentially float.
The second theoretical explanation for why AquaStretch works is that AquaStretch controls “stretch resistance” with three variables, by:
- Attaching 5 lb to 15 lb weights;
- Changing buoyancy;
- Varying facilitator pressure either directly or isometrically.
Without weights attached, the body can only generate low resistance against the water itself when stretching, and that minimal resistance can only be sustained for a short time. Although you can generate more resistance by putting pressure against objects or surfaces in the water, such as the bottom and sides of the pool or with hand paddles, it is difficult to control the exact amount of stress resistance and you may be limited in the directions you can sustain that stretch.
By attaching 5 lb to 15 lb weights to various parts of the body, you more effectively control the amount of stress resistance experienced and retain freedom in the range of motion to stretch. For example, with 10 lb weights attached above the ankle on one leg (the AquaStretch starting position called One Leg Standing), you can dynamically stretch the other foot, ankle, leg, as well as the lower back and pelvis in a remarkable number of directions. Similarly, with 10 lb weights above both ankles (the AquaStretch starting position called Two Heavy Feet), you can dynamically stretch the entire spine and neck in ways that are virtually impossible on land, often producing significant clinical benefit.
You can also control stress resistance by changing the body’s depth in the water. It is amazing how different the stress resistance and the quality of the stretch are by only changing the body’s relative buoyancy in the water by just a few inches. For example, it may be helpful to do Two Heavy Feet first with the client in water 4 inches below their armpit and then to repeat this stretch in water at armpit depth. Similarly, if you do AquaStretch self – exercises such as “Wall Sitting” (with 5 lb or 10 lb weights on both ankles while sitting with your back to the pool wall), again you stretch different areas of your body if you do that same stretch at four different water depths, each 3” to 4” apart.
Essentially, the greater your body’s buoyancy, the more your muscles float and the more you stretch deeper fascia and the gentler the stretch is. Thus, for people in significant pain or with limited movement, like frozen shoulder, scoliosis or recent injuries, it is often valuable to first AquaStretch in relatively deep water, so the areas that need to be stretched are completely under water.
The third theoretical explanation for why AquaStretch works is the Fascial Adhesion theory. In summary, when a person is injured they may form micro-calcifications in the fascia between their skin and a muscle, between two muscles, and/or between a muscle and a bone. These micro-calcifications are a temporary hardening around the injured area, primarily to facilitate the healing process and to protect against additional injury of those tissues. In normal situations, these fascial adhesions dissolve with normal exercise after the injured area has healed.
However, it seems that fascial adhesions may excessively harden and/or not dissolve for primarily two reasons. First, if someone is injured, they may start using that area before its’ healing is complete. For example, it is common for dancers and athletes that have an injured ankle which requires 4 weeks to heal, to be practicing, running, competing, or performing after 2 weeks. This may result in that ankle healing improperly and cause them to experience decreased flexibility, movement pain, and/or compensation problems on either side of their body in their knee, leg, hip, or lower back, often manifested by not being able to move symmetrically.
Second, many people do not exercise sufficiently and as a result, they do not dissolve their fascial adhesions, especially if those adhesions were excessively hardened due to premature use. In addition, fascial adhesions may form in anatomical areas that may only be stretched in positions possible while in the water.
The fourth theoretical explanation for why AquaStretch works is the concept of Intuitive Movement. It seems that if almost any part of your fascia is put into a stretch and you are given permission to “Move, if you feel the need to move” (to avoid your expectation of being “done” by the therapist), your body may intuitively move and stretch in directions that you need for better health. Your body is often smarter than you or your facilitator.
This intuitive movement may then be accented for greater effectiveness by facilitator pressure or isometric resistance. It is believed that your body cannot itself generate sufficient force in either strength or en durance, and/or that it needs increased resistance at specific body spots to be able to stretch out its fascial adhesions.
To summarize, AquaStretch theoretically works because it takes advantage of the body’s enhanced flexibility in water and controls stress resistance with 5 to 15 lb weights attached to the body in different water depths to vary relative buoyancy, with a facilitator encouraging their client to “Move, if they feel the need to move” and then accenting their client’s intuitive movement to dissolve fascial adhesions. It is the combination of these four theories that seems to account for AquaStretch’s effectiveness to restore freedom of movement and symmetry of function, and its many physiological benefits.