Say you were injured playing your favorite sport and had to have surgery on your knee. Now think of the countless hours of painful rehabilitation you face just to get your knee working again. What if there was a way to rehabilitate your knee in less time and with less pain?

Or maybe you suffer from fibromyalgia or some other disorder that makes even the lightest touch painful. What if there was a way to get your muscles back in working order without all the pain?

Well, there is. It's water therapy.

Using water to rehab injuries and ailments is both old and new. Greeks and Romans in ancient times used water to help them rehabilitate after sporting events, but it's only caught on recently in modern times. When NASA started doing research on weightlessness in water in the 1960s, people started realizing the scientific benefits of water therapy.

'Water can really help most patients,' says Jan Pratt, physical therapist and owner of Aquatic Fitness Inc. in Creve Coeur and O'Fallon, Mo. 'Using water is faster and better and offers less pain for the patient. For years physical therapists were referred to as physical terrorists or physical torturists. Water isn't that way - it's fun. And it has a powerful effect.'

Just ask Steve Rainey, 45, of O'Fallon, Mo. After his third, and most invasive, back surgery, his doctor recommended water therapy.

'I just couldn't believe the difference it made,' he says. 'I'm farther along now (five months after the surgery) than I ever was at the end of the others. When I did regular land therapy it seemed like I hurt all the time.'

With water therapy, many patients are able to get back to movement earlier, and with less pain and without stressing the parts that are healing.

You can start treatment one or two days after a sprain or strain and two to 10 days after surgery; compare this with five to seven days for a sprain or strain and two to four weeks after surgery for treatment on land, Pratt says.

Of course, an open wound would prohibit immediate water therapy, though in some cases a special bandage can be used.

'The thing that's good about water is that, whereas exercising on land requires weight bearing, in water, you can start water walking and not bear very much weight almost right away,' says Bess Maxwell, who has a doctoral degree in exercise physiology and is executive director of Show-Me Aquatics & Fitness in St. Charles, Mo.

'Water exercise is more comfortable. A person can gradually walk smoother, practice stepping up and down, a lot earlier on water than on land.'

Water therapy with a different twist also worked for Susan Staat, 51, of Arnold, Mo.

Staat has suffered from fibromyalgia for years. Fibromyalgia, an arthritis-related condition characterized by generalized muscular pain and fatigue, affects different people in different ways; for Staat, the feeling was similar to flulike symptoms in her joints. 'There were days I couldn't even put my feet on the floor, it hurt so bad.'

She was in so much pain that the slightest touch affected her, and a traditional land massage, though beneficial, was extremely painful. Her husband read about a form of water therapy called Watsu.

Watsu is a sort of Shiatsu massage in the water, a sequence of gentle movements and stretches as you are held in warm water that relaxes your body, resulting in greater flexibility and freedom.

Staat thought she'd give it a try, so she called Kathleen Christ, who has performed close to 6,000 Watsu treatments at her St. Louis Aquatic Healing Arts Center in Creve Coeur.

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