Making a splash: DHR unveils new Aquatic Therapy Institute

DHR Health is aiming to expand the range of people who can benefit from physical therapy.

Last Thursday, Doctors Hospital at Renaissance held an official opening of their new Aquatic Therapy Institute, located at 2001 S. Cynthia St. in McAllen. According to the institute’s director, Dr. Amir Esmaeili, the community will be “witness to a new wave of rehabilitation in the Rio Grande Valley.”

20190926 DHRDHR Health noted that the advantage of rehabilitation in water will meet the needs of clients suffering from musculoskeletal disorders, and aquatic therapy “utilizes the warmth, buoyancy and resistive properties of water to manage pain, reduce stiffness, increase joint mobility and optimize strength.”

Chief Physician Executive Dr. Robert Martinez, who was recently reappointed to the Texas Medical Board by Governor Greg Abbott, spoke on the benefits of aquatic physical therapy. The hospital had begun to notice a higher number of younger people in the Valley with issues like back pain, knee pain, degenerative joint disease and obesity.

“All of those things kind of contributed to finding a solution that better worked for the population here in South Texas,” Martinez said. “It’s just providing a better alternative to those folks.”

Martinez said that incorporating aquatic therapy into DHR Health will allow for a broader scope of people to access physical therapy and rehabilitation without hurting themselves in the process.

“It allows your weight to not be a barrier to getting good, appropriate physical therapy,” Martinez said. “It allows you more rigorous exercise – in the same amount of time – that you would get on land, with less pain.”

Land-based physical therapy operates under the force of gravity, which means a person has to bear the weight of their body while rehabilitating. Aquatic-based physical therapy means a person in the water is lighter, and joints are less affected.

“You’re able to manage a lot more resistance in the water, with less weight bearing,” Martinez said. “So patients that are in chronic pain don’t have that chronic pain [during aquatic physical therapy] because they’re not having to bear their weight that they usually are on land.”

He added that aquatic therapy is not just for people who are pre- or post-surgery, but also for people who have been debilitated and need to get their strength back up.

“These are solutions for people that have disease or chronic pain that want to start doing more exercise, or get more flexible,” Martinez said. “You’ll find a lot of people who say ‘I can’t do that, it hurts too bad,’ or ‘I can’t go there, I need to get in shape before I go to physical therapy,’ those kinds of things – and I think this is just another method by which you can employ physical therapy.”

Martinez said it is harder to work out in water, because the resistance in water is higher than that of air, but patients are able to achieve a better workout with less pain because of their buoyancy.

“You can do more with less pain,” Martinez said. “So you can actually circumvent the amount of time it would take to do some of that same work [on land].”

The DHR Health Aquatic Therapy Institute was on the radar with the hospital’s physicians for a few years.

“We’ve noted that it probably needed to be part of our treatment spectrum for a couple of years now,” Martinez said. “It was just a matter of time and finding the right place and bringing all of the expertise together.”

The institute will include “an inviting environment with high-quality land- and water-based physical therapy services, one-on-one treatment conducted by a licensed clinical professional, a brand new warm-water therapy pool built for accessibility in a climate-controlled space, a clean and well-equipped land-based therapy gym, two extra-large examination rooms for client comfort and privacy, crystal-clean men’s and women’s locker rooms, each with three showers and a wheelchair-accessible changing room and shower,” according to Esmaeili.

The therapy team is comprised of three licensed Physical Therapists and five licensed Physical Therapist Assistants. Two of the clinicians are certified by the Aquatic Therapy & Rehab Institute.

“They work to ensure that our care exceeds industry standards for safety and clinical quality,” Esmaeili said. “The aim of our newest facility is to become the premier destination for patients with spine and joint-related injuries and conditions.”

Martinez added that it took time to gather the best team of doctors and physical trainers together for this endeavor.

“We wanted to do it the right way, and that required bringing several different levels of expertise and personnel to be able to do it comprehensively,” Martinez said. “We’ve got the most fellowship-trained physical therapists as well – these are physical therapists who have gone to do a fellowship at a higher level, usually at a university or with a professional sports team, to really give them another level of expertise to providing therapy.”

Physical therapists that have done fellowships are trained to care for professional athletes – who are accustomed to using their bodies at a higher rate of wear and tear than the average person – are able to work well with anyone, according to Martinez.

“We’ve got the highest number of those folks [fellowship-trained physical therapists] at our place, which is nice,” Martinez said. “It takes a while to assemble a team like that, because they’re not all from here.”

All of the work put into the facility was undertaken in order to continue to provide quality health care in the RGV.

“It’s another alternative to get more people to participate with physical therapy,” Martinez said. “We know that physical therapy in the right hands works very well, but it’s got limitations as well. The aquatic therapy will [allow us] to have a bigger number of people participating, because not everyone can tolerate land-based therapy.”

Joint pain and chronic tension is mostly alleviated in the water, so the DHR Health Aquatic Therapy Institute strives to eliminate a patient’s lack of motivation to continue rehabilitation that they may get with land-based physical therapy.

“You’re able to have more participation with more people, with less pain,” Martinez said. “So by definition, they tend to quit less, they tend to want to participate more, or they don’t stop participating because it hurts too bad.”

Martinez hopes the institute will be able to get people in the community more in tuned with their bodies in order to lead a more active and fun life. If the cards are played right, he said, they will start to look at bigger additional locations to expand the reach of those services in the RGV as a whole.

“That involves being mobile,” Martinez said. “I think a lot of people realize that when they stop being mobile, a lot of their freedom ends. So the hope is that we’re able to communicate what we can do here, educate folks about who may benefit from physical therapy, either land-based or aquatic and hopefully get them involved so they can be healthier and live an enjoyable life for as long as they are here with simple exercises.”

This article originally appeared in the Friday Oct. 4, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.

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