By Rebecca Davey
Chief Executive Officer Arthritis ACT
For pregnant women with any form of arthritis, continuing hydrotherapy can be a vexing question with many pregnancy guides advising against hot tubs, spas or saunas. However, these guides don’t generally discuss the benefits of hydrotherapy for people with arthritis.
Many women find their arthritis improves during pregnancy. This is largely due to pregnancy hormones, which relax the ligaments around the joints to allow for childbirth.
All joints are affected, and this usually lasts until around 6 weeks after the baby is born. For women with systemic forms of arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis, up to 70 percent will experience a significant improvement in symptoms during pregnancy. This holds true even if the mother stops taking arthritis-specific medication, which is sometimes necessary to ensure the safety of mum and baby during the pregnancy, birth and early postnatal period.
But for some women, withdrawing from this medication can lead to an increase in symptoms, particularly the pain they experience. Therefore hydrotherapy plays an important part in their lives during pregnancy.
Spas and saunas aren’t recommended during pregnancy, as the ambient air temperature is high and can lead your own body temperature to rise rapidly to a level that’s not safe for your baby. Hydrotherapy pools, however, are different.
The air temperature is significantly cooler than the water temperature and you’re generally not fully immersed for long periods of time, which allows your body to regulate its temperature.
Research has shown that women who participate in moderate intensity aqua aerobics for 35 minutes, followed by lower intensity exercise for 10 minutes, have a rise in body temperature of only 0.16 degrees Celsius in water of up to 33.4 degrees Celsius.
The benefits of hydrotherapy for arthritis have been well researched and proven. As well as the positive effects on your joints and pain levels, hydrotherapy during pregnancy increases the blood flow to the baby through the placenta while water works to dissipate exercise-induced body heat away from the body and into the water at a faster rate than exercising in air.
It is also proven to reduce common pregnancy side effects such as carpal tunnel syndrome, swelling in the ankles and varicose veins.
It is important to discuss your exercise regime with your midwife, GP, obstetrician and/or rheumatologist, as everyone’s body is different. It is also important to make sure you are comfortable and not feeling too hot during any exercise in pregnancy, and always ensure when undertaking any exercise that you have a bottle of water handy and keep yourself well hydrated.