I thought I would share my hydrotherapy journey with you, in case it helps anyone else decide whether or not to try it – and if they do, what to expect. I suffer from ME and fibromyalgia, and did some research in early 2015 into hydrotherapy. I am in a few chronic illness groups on Facebook, and several people said hydro had been helpful for them. There isn’t a lot of scientific research either way but I decided it was worth a try.
A Bit of History
So first for a bit of history… I actually made the decision to try hydrotherapy in early 2015. I didn’t think I would get it on the NHS (the GP made no offer when I discussed it with him) so I decided to find somewhere public in Leeds and book in there. We have a good hydro pool only a few miles from me, which was built initially for use by paralympians but is open to the public at a cost. It is around £10 per session (1 hour in total, 20 minutes in the actual pool). I rang them to book a session and discussed why I wanted to use it, and they refused to let me book without a doctor’s letter to confirm I was safe to use hydro. I’m not sure if this is standard procedure, as I wasn’t expecting, it, but I assume it is due to insurance on their part.
I asked my GP for a letter confirming I could attend, all the way back in Spring 2015. He said he would do one, but it would cost £70 and would take about 4 months as they were short-staffed and had a backlog. I was a bit hesitant to pay that much as of course money is tight when you’re off sick. When I saw the Rheumatologist in June 2015, I mentioned this to him and he very kindly said not to worry – he would do the letter for me with no charge. Great in theory, but unfortunately it took 7 months and a lot of chaser phone calls to actually hear anything back from him!
Hydrotherapy Dry Assessment
I finally heard back in January, and was pleasantly suprised that instead of just writing me a letter, he had actually referred me to the hydrotherapy team at his hospital. This is great as it means the treatment will be under the NHS rather than me paying for it. If it does help, then I can always book some paid-for top up sessions once the NHS course runs out. The letter I received in January was an appointment to attend what they call a ‘dry assessment’ – i.e they assess your suitability and it does not involve going in the pool.
“Dry assessment – checking your suitability & doesn’t involve going in the water”.
I was asked to complete a 2 page form with some basic medical information and a body chart to shade where it hurts (practically the entire diagram was coloured in, haha!) I had to bring this with me to hand to the physio. The physio himself was absolutely lovely – really polite, friendly and understanding. He was familiar with ME and fibro so I didn’t have to go into it too much.
The first thing he did was run through my medical history, when and how I was diagnosed, what tests I had and my main symptoms. He asked whether I had any bladder or bowel problems (they have to ask as these can indicate something to do with the spine, which would mean they have to be very careful). He also asked why I chose hydrotherapy and what I was hoping it would do/my expected outcome. I told him I didn’t know whether it would help or not but as I had heard some positive accounts, I wanted to give it a try. My main aim is to strengthen my muscles (which have weakened from a lot of bed rest) and to use the warm water and stretching to aid in pain relief.
Key Points to Help with Pain
A few key things he mentioned were:
- Using heat – I told him I use my heatpad if I’m in pain which he said was great. He advised to use it for at least 20 minutes 3x a day, not only in response to pain. The heat helps the muscles relax and keeps things looser. No ice is necessary as that is only to target inflammation (injury etc).
- Using stretching – it is obviously important to stretch, to keep muscles flexible and prevent getting too weak and inflexible. I already try to stretch where possible, as it helps with my pain. I use a mixture of the easiest/least taxing yoga moves I know and some stretches a previous physio gave me. I can’t really do anything weight-bearing or too strenuous due to the ME.He gave me a short series of stretches (mainly directed at the neck, back and shoulders) which he would like me to do twice a day. I know realistically that there will be some days this is impossible (on bad ME days, I can be stuck in bed and struggle to even get to the bathroom etc) but I will certainly do them as regularly as possible in the next three weeks. The aim is to get everything loosened and moving before the first hydro session, so it’s not as much of a shock to the system.
Next, the physio ran me through a range of different movements so that he could assessment my range of movement. These were all simple (seeing how far I could bend forward, raising my arms as far as I could, rotating my head to each side etc). This gives him an idea of my starting position and limitations.
“Simple exercises for physio to assess your range of movement”.
Finally, he did some hands-on physio. He felt around my lower back, up my spine, around my shoulder blades and my shoulders. He was feeling for tension and asked me for feedback as to what hurt and what didn’t. Around my spine was pretty sore but nothing I couldn’t put up with for the few seconds it took.
That was the full assessment done! He printed me a copy of the exercises he had shown me, which was really useful. He made an appointment for me to see him again in 3 weeks to see how I was getting on with the exercises etc. As I had his approval, he referred me for an actual hydrotherapy appointment as well. Unfortunately there is a 6 week waiting list for this at the moment, but I should get an appointment through soon.
“You may have a high pain day following on from the first assessment”.
The ‘PEM Payback’…
One important thing to note… I began hurting later on the day of the appointment. I didn’t sleep well that night due to pain, and the next day was a bad one. I had high pain levels and was exhausted. This is to be expected as I’d of course attended the appointment, which in itself is tiring for a spoonie, and had also done the range of movements and had hands-on physio. I only mention it so that if anyone reading this goes through the same process, they know to try and keep the following day or two free for rest if possible!
I will update you again after my next physio appointment and of course once I start the actual hydrotherapy. If you have any questions or would like any more information, just let me know. The aim of me writing about this is to help others know what to expect or decide whether they want to try it too.