Hey guys! If you haven’t followed my hydrotherapy journey so far, you can find all 4 other posts here! I have now finally had my first actual hydrotherapy session! If you follow me on social media, you might have seen the photo at the top of this post already (and if you don’t, why not?! Haha). I had a really positive first experience, which I want to share with you.
I’ve had a lot of feedback and questions about this series of posts, so I want to make sure I give as much detail as possible, to try and help others decide whether it might be something for them to try.
Parking and Changing Rooms
The run-up to the appointment wasn’t so great – I spent it circling the hospital car park for 20 minutes attempting to find a parking space. In the end I just gave up and parked at the side of the car park until someone left (and I wasn’t the only one who resorted to that!) Luckily I’m one of those people who’s obsessed with being on time, so I’d arrived half an hour early. Unfortunately that left me arriving a bit hot, tired and flustered!
I checked in at reception and was guided straight to the hydrotherapy changing room. It looked just like a physio outpatient ward, with the ‘massage’ type beds inside blue-curtained cubicles. Each one also held a chair and had plenty of space to get changed in. The only difference was that there was a toilet and shower cubicle, together with a small bank of lockers.
I can only speak for Chapel Allerton Hospital, but they did have plenty of towels you could use; however I brought my own after the receptionist told me that their towels were very small (fine for drying off, but not for walking around in, to the shower etc!) You will also need a carrier bag for taking your wet stuff home – I had thought of that, but forgot to take one at last minute, so they provided me with a spare bin liner!
“You might want to take your own towel, and will need a bag for your wet things!”
I immediately got chatting to a woman who had just finished getting dressed after her session and by coincidence, she also has ME and fibromyalgia! What a small world. It was great to talk to her as she gave me some useful tips and was able to tell me about her experiences so far. She was really positive and friendly, so that put me at ease. I’m hoping to bump into her again at my next session!
The Hydrotherapy Pool
The physio came to greet me and introduce herself, then instructed me to shower before taking me into the room with the pool. Then came a surprise! I had been imagining something like a normal swimming pool, but shallower. What I didn’t expect was this glass-sided enclosure that looked just like the tanks at the aquarium!! It was pretty small, around a third of the size of a standard swimming pool. The glass sides make total sense, I realised later on, as one member of staff stays at the dry side and can check your form through the glass when you’re doing exercises.
There was a hoist chair at one end (for those unable to walk into the pool) and I was guided to use the stairs at the other end. I did feel the stairs were surprisingly steep and a little challenging, considering they are dealing with people with injuries and disabilities, but I managed them. The water came up to around my chest and was so warm – really nice and soothing! It can either be still, or they can turn on a ‘bubbles’ option (although they are very gentle, nothing like a jacuzzi! There was also a grab rail around the entire edge of the hydrotherapy pool.
“The water came up to my chest… there was a grab rail around the entire edge of the pool”.
I was instructed to start by gently walking a couple of times around the pool. The physio asked which areas caused me the most pain – my neck, shoulders, arms and hands are the worst. Bearing that in mind, we started with some neck exercises. To get the use of the warm water, I sat on a chair under the water, so that I was submerged up to just below my chin. I had to be strapped into the chair, as I kept floating otherwise!
The exercises were the same as those the initial physio guy had asked me to do at home – neck rolls, looking up and down, and ear to shoulder. Next was pulling my shoulders back and down, holding for 5 seconds, to loosen up my shoulder-blades and upper back. The physio frequently asked how I was finding the exercises and checked I was managing. Next, I was given two sponges to hold – I had to keep squeezing them to exercise my hands. I alternated that with rolling my wrists all the way round, still holding the sponges.
The next exercise was the one I found the most difficult – I was given a float (just like the ones you use when you learn to swim) and had to push it out in front of me, to the full extension of my arms, then pull back in. Then do the same to the right and the left. This bit was fine, but after several repetitions of that, I then had to hold the float under the water whilst doing the same. That meant there was a lot of resistance from the water and I found that it made me arms shake quite a bit. That was the only exercise that really felt uncomfortable at the time.
“There was a lot of resistance from the water…that made my arms shake quite a bit”.
After a short rest, the physio gave me a ‘noodle’ (you know those long, thin floaty tubes they use in aqua-aerobics?) I had to hold it around the front of my body, just on the surface of the water. I had to step forward with one leg, then twist my whole upper body at the waist towards the left. Then step forward with the other leg and twist my upper body to the right. This was fairly simple, although you had to make sure to use your core (stomach etc) muscles to hold your balance.
Knowing My Limits
The physio then asked how I was feeling and I said I was quite tired. She asked if I wanted to do any more. I’m terrible at pushing myself too far and wanting to ‘achieve’ more, but I tried to be sensible, as I knew I’d regret it in the following days (payback!) As a compromise, I told her I couldn’t manage anything else with my arms, but if there was anything just using the legs, then I would do a little bit more.
She asked me to hold onto the railing around the pool and gently squat as low as I comfortably could, 10 times. Finally, still holding the bar, I had to rise onto tiptoes 10 times. That one seemed so easy, but I actually really felt it towards the last repetitions! The whole in-water session lasted around 25 minutes (staying fairly active but with some time to talk and assess).
On climbing the steps to leave the pool, I did feel really shaky and had to be quite careful as I didn’t feel very steady on my feet. I went back next door to the changing cubicle and sat on the chair for around 10 minutes, until I felt a bit less shaky (great idea on their part to have chairs in there, as I’m sure I’m not the only one who needed to sit down after a session!) That’s when, feeling very pleased with myself, I took the triumphant selfie you see on this post!
“The whole in-water session lasted around 25 minutes”.
Tips for Hydrotherapy
If you are considering hydrotherapy yourself, I would recommend that you wear loose, easy-fitting clothes and slip on shoes as after the session, you don’t have much strength and energy left to get dressed or tie up laces. I wore my hair up in a high bun and it stayed dry, which saved me having to wash and dry my hair before driving home – which was a good move, as I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do that on top of the session! If you have shorter hair, you could perhaps wear a swimming cap to keep it dry.
Chapel Allerton Hospital has a nice little cafe near the entrance, which I went to once I was dressed. I was still feeling a little shaky and not ready to drive yet, so I sat down there with a drink for half an hour. If you’re going somewhere without a cafe, you could maybe take your own bottled drink and a magazine, and sit back in the waiting area for a bit until you’re ready to go home.
In an ideal world, I would get a lift or use a taxi, but everyone is at work at the time of my appointments and a return taxi would be way too expensive for me. If you personally do have someone available, I think a lift would be a really good idea.
Now, the bit you’re all probably waiting for…. PAYBACK! I am writing this post the day after my hydrotherapy, and the fact I’m even typing is a good sign! I didn’t feel too bad for the rest of the day yesterday, but made sure to rest. However I didn’t get to sleep until around 3am as I was in quite a bit of pain.
I have been in pain all day today, but not as severely as I perhaps expected. It’s unpleasant but definitely bearable, with painkillers. It’s like my normal pain, but with the type you get after exercise on top of it (like you can feel where the muscles have been stretched and worked). I had expected it to flare my fibro pain up more, but it doesn’t seem to have… so far!
My fatigue level hasn’t actually been any worse today (still mostly in bed, but no more than usual); although PEM (post exertational malaise) often hits a couple of days after the activity rather than the very next day.
This post was written a week before going live, so I will pop back and update it if my pain or fatigue get much worse tomorrow. [Edited to add, days 2 and 3 afterwards were the worst, I was pretty wiped out and slept a lot. My pain was also definitely increased. It began to ease off around day 4. It wasn’t great, but was how I’d imagined I’d feel, and hopefully the after-effect of each session will get a little easier? I’ll let you know.] – note, yes it did get easier each time!
I hope this post has been useful to you, and that I’ve answered all the questions I have been asked by you guys online. If there is anything I’ve missed, or anything additional that you’d like to know, just leave me a comment and I’ll get back to you!
You can find all 5 posts detailing my hydrotherapy journey here.
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