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What’s the Difference Between Aquatic Therapy and Massage Therapy?

How AquaStretch assisted stretching puts YOU in control

Karen Charles using AquaStretch in pool with mature lady vs massage therapists kneading patient's back

The question I’m asked most frequently is to explain the difference between aquatic or water-based assisted stretching therapy (such as AquaStretch) and “land-based” treatments such as a sports or deep tissue massage. Many new clients come to me with the assumption that I’ll be performing the same or similar types of massage techniques as they would expect from a “traditional” physical therapist - rubbing and kneading the soft tissues, muscles, tendons, and ligaments etc. Only I’ll be doing it underwater.

If only it were that simple! While aquatic and massage therapies are similar in many ways, there are even more ways in which they differ, mostly in how they’re applied, who performs them and when they’re performed. Part of my training in aquatic therapy was to study the unique characteristics of water, such as buoyancy and resistance. This knowledge allows me to take advantage of these properties to properly design tailored treatment plans.

If you’re a regular visitor to a massage therapist’s table, then you’re probably familiar with the sensation that the therapy is being done TO you. With aquatic therapy you’re an active participant in your own experience and treatment, and this is probably one of the key differences between the two forms of treatment (apart from the presence of water of course). While passive treatments have their place, because you’re taking an active part in the process, AquaStretch is generally more effective than massage, is less painful, and the benefits last three to four times longer.

So AquaStretch is a collaborative effort: I work with you rather than impose treatment on you. You decide how much energy you want to put into the movements, telling me how far you feel comfortable stretching and working your body three-dimensionally, giving you total control over your wellbeing.

My focus is on addressing any mobility restrictions or ongoing pain in a gradual and controlled manner, not forcing you into unnatural positions or exerting uncomfortable amounts of pressure on your body. And by allowing you to dictate the intensity and range of movement, AquaStretch can contribute to more lasting and permanent results for you.

Karen Charles using AquaStretch assisted stretching on a lady in a pool

Here are some other ways in which the two approaches vary:-

Extended range of movement:

The water's buoyancy allows for a wider range of motion compared to the body manipulation possible in a physiotherapist’s treatment room. This can be especially beneficial if you have mobility restrictions or pain, as you’ll be able to gradually extend your movements in a more controlled, less painful, and more (literally!) supportive environment.

Deep tissue effect with less pain: 

Assisted stretching with AquaStretch/Aqua Therapy can provide the same deep tissue effect without the same level of pain that might be experienced with traditional physiotherapy on a table or plinth. The water's resistance can still provide a challenging workout while being kinder to your joints as I gently encourage small but incremental improvements in your range of motion. Plus the hydrostatic pressure provided by the water (the static force of the water pressing against your body) reduces any swelling and acts as a compression device while you’re submerged.

Personalised approach: 

Since everyone moves differently in water, AquaStretch/Aqua Therapy allows for a more personalised and adaptable approach to help you move better or reduce your pain. I will tailor exercises based on your specific needs and how you respond to the various movements. Many clients find that just one session in the water with me can unlock stiff joints and reduce chronic pain, helping them to be more mobile and enjoy life a little more.

Karen Charles in a pool using AquaStretch on a lady seen from above

No pain: 

Massage therapy focuses on muscles, while AquaStretch focuses on your fascia. I don’t subscribe to the “no pain no gain” mantra, so during treatment I check with you how you’re feeling at each stage and as soon as you start to feel uncomfortable, we correct, reset, and try something else. By following your body’s intuitive movements and with my help you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve in the water – with no pain!

Automatic relaxation: 

Being in the water has a natural calming effect on the body. The support provided by the water can induce a sense of relaxation, which is perfect for dealing with stress or tension. And the buoyancy of water supports your body, reducing the impact on your joints and muscles.

As with any form of exercise or physical therapy, my best advice is to check with your GP or health practitioner before you start. For more information about AquaStretch/Aqua Therapy please visit my Mobility Therapies website, or contact me directly on or 07702 833033.

Live the life you want, not a life in pain.

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