Healing Waters

Therapeutic treatments that harnessthe power of H2O

By Jennifer McInerney • Photography by Jack Foley

As anyone who lives near the ocean will tell you, just listening to the sound of the waves lapping against the sand can clear the mind and bring about a state of calm. Water has long been a therapeutic tool used by physicians and spa professionals to deliver physical rehabilitation as well as mental relaxation. Capable of providing gentle resistance as well as support, water makes it possible to move and stretch without fear of injury and it can also help relieve feelings of tension and stress. We uncovered a few local places where aquatic experiences are being used to improve health and wellness.

Located at the end of a quiet hallway at South Shore Hospital, the bright and sunny pool facility at the Outpatient Rehabilitation Center is a hidden gem offering a range of therapeutic programs for patients as well as the general public.

“Aquatic therapy increases blood flow and oxygenation to the muscles, says community and aquatic programs manager, Jennifer Logan. “Your heart rate is lower when you’re in the pool, so it helps return blood flow to the heart. It’s an ideal modality for a lot of people.”

Aquatic therapy can offer benefits for many types of ailments and conditions, such as balance, flexibility, joint stability, core development, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, prenatal care and neurological conditions like multiple sclerosis and chronic pain.

There’s little question that the two onsite therapy pools have restorative healing powers. Take, for instance, a fairly new patient named Herb, who, at 85 years old suffers from chronic middle back pain. When cortisone shots proved ineffective in treating the affliction, Herb’s doctor referred him to the hospital’s Outpatient Rehabilitation Center to seek some relief through aquatic therapy.

A wooden cane by his side, he sits uncomfortably, almost rigidly, in the corridor outside the entrance to the pool area. He grimaces as he talks about his back pain and his responses are brief and to the point. But once he’s been deposited into the 92-degree waters of the larger pool—via an automated chair lift—Herb gradually becomes a new man. He begins to smile, and his posture visibly relaxes. He follows the lead of his trainer, Len Forbes, a full-time physical therapy assistant and aquatic therapist, who guides him through the five-foot-deep section of the pool. They cycle through a series of resistance exercises for the arms and legs, moving back and forth, submerged up to their chests. Herb is moving freely, confidently. His wife, Armeline, watches from the sidelines with a smile.

Midstream through his workout, Herb looks up from the pool, beaming, as though he were navigating a dance floor at a party, rather than a therapy pool in a hospital. “The people who work here are great, especially the ladies,” he quips. Elsewhere in the pool, patients of varying ages and abilities exercise at depths that are appropriate to their personal rehabilitation. Some are unassisted; some incorporate water weights for resistance and strength-development; one woman is able to hop in place in the pool.

Patients typically start their rehabilitation in the larger pool, and some ultimately advance to the neighboring pool, which is slightly smaller and heated to 82 degrees, for additional therapy at a six-foot depth. Both pools have railings along the inside edge to help patients gain confidence.

A team of therapists are on hand to help patients enter and exit the pool, to assist those training independently, and to evaluate patients’ progress so that their exercise programs are tailored specifically to their needs.

“It’s a cumulative effect, yielding gradual improvements over time,” says Logan. “Because you’re in the water, you don’t feel like you’re doing a lot of work, but you are.” And those aren’t the only benefits: Armeline, Herb’s wife, points out that the location of the aquatic therapy pools inside South Shore Hospital has been a life-saver—literally.

“One afternoon, we were at the pool and Herb had to be rushed to the emergency ward because he was short of breath,” she explains. (In addition to his back pain, Herb has also undergone two angioplasties.) “The people here were very good to us. They escorted us to the emergency ward and came back to check on us later.”

South Shore Hospital’s aquatic therapy programs are open to patients via medical referral, and a number of pool-based community classes are available to the public by application.

The Outpatient Rehabilitation Center at South Shore Hospital
55 Fogg Road, South Weymouth

A Place for Peace & Quiet 

If you’re looking for a way to completely disconnect from the stress of work, family obligations and the seemingly endless influx of emails and social media updates, a float tank experience might be just what the doctor ordered. One of the hottest relaxation trends, float tanks offer guests a peaceful floating experience inside a water-filled chamber that is devoid of sound and light. Similar to meditation, the sensation of silently floating inside the capsule is said to provide healthful benefits for both the mind and the body.

Originally invented in the mid-1950s by neuroscientist Dr. John Lilly at the National Institute of Mental Health in Washington, floatation tanks (also known as isolation tanks) offer Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy (REST). Floating has become increasingly popular in recent years, but JURI Float Spa in Canton is one of the few places on the east coast where you can test the waters for yourself.

Owner Rita Johnson first learned about float therapy while visiting a spa on the west coast and immediately became enchanted by the concept. A mental health counselor by trade, Johnson believed float tanks could potentially help improve the physical and mental wellbeing of her patients as well as many others. After failing to find a float tank facility south of Boston, she decided to open up a float spa business of her own.

JURI Float Spa welcomes guests to spend 60 or 90 minutes floating inside the narrow tank chamber that is filled with 12 inches of Epsom salt water. After the hatch has been closed, subjects are completely isolated from outside distractions as the tanks are soundproof and completely dark. While the experience is not designed for people who are claustrophobic, the fact that the treatment forces the individual to unplug from the outside world is appealing to those seeking deep relaxation.

Floating has been shown to help ease headaches and other aches and pains, regulate blood pressure, assist with sleep disorders and improve focus and mindfulness. It can also be used to help treat anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder. The Epsom salt in the water, which contains magnesium and sulfur, helps to detoxify the body. The magnesium helps to soothe muscle pain, cleanse pores and detoxify the skin while the sulfates flush toxins and improve absorption of nutrients. 

JURI Float Spa
424 Neponset St., Canton, 

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