Hydrotherapy: Swimming or Underwater Treadmill?

By: Colleen Lum, LVT, CCRA

When is it more appropriate to choose the underwater treadmill instead of swimming? Swimming is just as good as walking in water right? Not the case. Although both activities involve the use of water, they differ in how they benefit our patients and the type of patients they treat more effectively.  How do we choose between swimming or underwater treadmill?

Both of these methods of hydrotherapy use the properties of water to aide in the rehabilitation process. Water offers the following abilities:

  • Resistance (pulling limbs through and out of the water helps strengthen atrophied/weakened muscles)UWT Keeper
  • Buoyancy (support for weak patients and lessens the impact gravity has on arthritic/degenerative joints)
  • Controlled temperature (warmth to help soothe joints and muscles and improve circulation)
  • Hydrostatic pressure (pressure that water places on the body that helps circulatory problems and decrease swelling/edema)

Underwater Treadmill

Patient variables (primary complaint, age, etc.) are taken into consideration when deciding on which modality would be the most beneficial for their treatment plan. About 95% of our patients use the underwater treadmill because it is a more balanced option than swimming. The majority of those patients are dogs with osteoarthritis in multiple joints, those recovering from orthopedic surgery, or managing a neurologic disease (i.e. degenerative myelopathy).     Continue…

Degenerative Myelopathy: The “Lou Gehrig’s” Disease of Dogs

By Lisa Blanchard BA, LVT, CMT, CCRP, CCFT


 While Luke has been not been officially diagnosed with DM, his symptoms are very indicative of the disease.

Luke is shown here,  exercising in the underwater treadmill.  While Luke has been not been officially diagnosed with DM, his symptoms are very indicative of the disease.

Basic definition breakdown: 1) Degenerate – to lose functional activity. 2) Myelopathy – disturbance or disease of the spinal cord.

Degenerative myelopathy in dogs most parallels the disease in ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease in humans.  Like ALS, DM is not a painful disease.  It affects mature dogs usually between the ages of 8-14 years.  It is a slow progressive, non-inflammatory deterioration of the white matter of the spinal cord (1).   The white matter is significant as it helps transmit information from the brain to the dog’s limbs (2).  As the white matter degenerates the dog loses coordination making it difficult to walk.

The disease will usually start in one hind limb eventually progressing to the other hind limb.  The dog will look ataxic (wobbly), start to scuff its feet, and ultimately knuckle over walking on the tops of its paws.  The disease accelerates until the dog is unable to walk and is paraplegic in the rear limbs.   This progression can take anywhere from 6 months to 3 years depending on the severity of the signs (1)(2).  As the disease continues into advanced stages the dog will lose urinary and fecal continence, and eventually the disease will affect the front limbs as well.  During the final stage of the disease the dog usually succumbs to respiratory failure.   Due to quality of life concerns most dogs are humanely euthanized before they get to this stage.