What is the Halliwick Concept?

Aquatic Therapy Exercises, founded by the late James McMillan

The Halliwick concept originally developed to teach people with physical disability to swim and make them independent in water.

The Halliwick Concept is an approach to teaching all people, in particular, focusing on those with physical and/or learning difficulties, to take part in water activities, to move independently in water, and to swim.

Independence is an important prerequisite for participation in therapeutic, vocational or recreational activities in a group: the willingness to lose balance and knowing how to stand up again are core elements.

The Halliwick Concept is based on a belief in the benefits that can be derived from activities in water, and sets out the fundamentals necessary for their learning. These benefits include physical, personal, recreational, social and therapeutic aspects. The Concept has influenced aquatic therapy techniques and has been developed into specific therapeutic exercises.

A Ten Point Program is used to reach these goals. The most important part of this program is rotational control.

The fluid-mechanical properties of water are the basis for the intervention techniques. Turbulent moving water provides resistance, therefore the one will lose balance slowly and has time to react. Buoyancy provides an easy way to change position, which influences the vestibular system as in sensory integration. Buoyancy forces counteract gravity forces and create rotational torques (meta-centric effects). These torques can be used to increase load on connective tissue.

Mostly Halliwick is dynamic to help movement and sensory input. In neurological and pediatric rehabilitation, people can experience early mobility. The mechanical advantages of water support the abilities of the trunk in a mobilising and stabilising way. In this sense Halliwick is a constraint-induced movement therapy without the disadvantage of gravity compensation. Many activities easily can be repeated and varied and people can learn balance and stumble strategies, which have carry-over effects to dry land.

Halliwick also enables a graded activity program: with low mechanical impact and increasing physiological demand, chronic low back pain patients and others can increase their functional capacity in a mostly joyful way.

Activities in warm water:

  • Promote well-being
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Alleviate chronic pain
  • Relieve stress
  • Ease the pain of fibromyalgia

It is believed that the thermal properties of water help healing. The body's reaction to hot and cold water causes the nerves at the surface of the skin to carry impulses deep into the body. This reaction is thought to:

  • Lessen pain sensitivity
  • Stimulate the immune system
  • Aid lymphatic drainage
  • Increase blood circulation

It is also likely to leave you both physically and mentally relaxed.

Bodywork in warm water can release energy and balance chi

Thermal aquatic bodywork is an effective way of mobilizing "Chi" (life force) through the "Meridians" (lines of energy in the body). Body temperature water offers a unique and ideal medium for freeing energy. The lightness of the body in water allows the Aquatic practitioner to float you, which has the following effects:

  • Frees the spinal vertebrae
  • Rotates joint articulations
  • Elongates muscles

All of the above benefits are simply not possible with land exercise.


Alcohol and smoking are prohibited during activities.

There are several precautions you need to consider before participating the thermal aquatic bodywork:

  • confusion or disorientation
  • after ingestion of alcoholic beverages
  • under narcotic influence
  • medications
  • respiratory problems
  • hypertension
  • medical condition affecting the spine
  • spinal disc herniation (slipped disc)
  • pregnancy
  • limited strength, endurance, balance, or range of motion


You can not take part if you suffer from any of the following conditions:

  • incontinence diarrhea, bowel/bladder incontinence
  • vomiting (emesis)
  • seizure (epilepsy) disorders
  • open wounds or non-healing ulcers
  • contagious skin condition
  • herpes
  • high fever
  • HIV
  • hepatitis C
  • infectious diseases
  • ear infection (otitis)
  • urinary infections
  • perforated eardrum
  • eye infection
  • heart disease (abnormal heart function), cardiac failure
  • blood pressure disorder (untreated)
  • pregnancy (after the 17th week, with your physician approval)
  • chemotherapy and radiation therapy (after the 3rd month)
  • allergies or sensitivities to pool chemicals
  • excessive fear of water
  • colostomy bag/catheter use by patient

What are the physiological changes in our body during Aquatic exercise:

  • Decreased heart rate
  • Decreased rate of respiration
  • Increased depth of respiration
  • Increased peripheral vasodilatation
  • Increased smooth muscle activity (digestion)
  • Decreased activation of striated muscles (skeletal)
  • Decreased spasticity
  • Decreased muscle spasm
  • Decreased reticular activating system (RAS) activity
  • Enhanced immune system response

References: Wikipedia

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