For people with multiple sclerosis, a recent pilot study has shown that an aquatic exercise program is both feasible and beneficial, resulting in improved motor function among the subjects.

The study, “Community-based group aquatic program for individuals with multiple sclerosis: a pilot study,” involved 11 adults with multiple sclerosis, 10 of whom completed the entire intervention. Inclusion criteria for the study included a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, a medical clearance for exercise participation and limited physical activity prior to participation in the study.

The aquatic exercise program used for this study was designed by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and approved by experts in physical therapy, occupational therapy and sports science, as well as a certified aquatic instructor with 15 years of experience conducting classes for people with multiple sclerosis.

Subjects in the study attended this one-hour group aquatic exercise class twice a week for five weeks. At the start of each class, the participants warmed up, then performed the aquatic exercises, and then there was a cool-down period, all of which took place in the pool.

Evaluation of the study’s subjects took place before and after the five-week aquatic intervention. The 10-Meter Walk test, the Berg Balance Scale, the Timed Up and Go, a grip-strength test and the Modified Fatigue Impact Scale all were used to assess results of aquatic exercise. Participants also filled out a satisfaction survey in regards to the aquatic exercise classes.

An analysis of the data showed significant improvements in walking speed, balance, functional mobility and grip strength following the five weeks of aquatic exercise. There were no significant changes from baseline to post-intervention in terms of fatigue.

Data from the satisfaction survey showed high approval ratings for the overall experience, and none of the subjects reported any adverse effects related to the aquatic exercise.

“The findings demonstrate that a community-based aquatic program for individuals with multiple sclerosis is feasible, beneficial and safe to implement and may serve as a good model for community-based wellness programs for people with disabilities,” state the study’s authors.

The researchers speculate the significant improvements in motor function may be due to the fact that the subjects were able to engage in exercises in the water that would not have been possible for them to perform on land.

“The positive outcomes from this study justify a multi-centered study to further examine the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of the aquatic program,” state the study’s authors, “and to determine the cost of running short-term group-based aquatic exercise programs compared to long-term individual aquatic sessions.”

Authors: Yasser Salem, Anne Hiller Scott, Herbert Karpatkin, George Concert, Leah Haller, Eva Kaminsky, Rivky Weisbrot and Eugene Spatz.

Sources: Department of Physical Therapy, Department of Occupational Therapy and Division of Sports Sciences, Long Island University, Brooklyn, New York; Department of Physical Therapy, Hunter College, City University of New York. Originally published online in Disability and Rehabilitation (2010).