Learn About How Swimming Helps Children with Spinal Muscular Atrophy

Every child deserves the chance to play. However, many children with spinal muscular atrophy have difficulty playing due to their illness.

Water provides the perfect environment where every child can play and experience the freedom offered by water.

What is Spinal Muscular Atrophy?

This month of August, we celebrate Spinal Muscular Atrophy Awareness Month.

Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a genetic disease. The illness affects the part of the nervous system that controls voluntary muscle movement.

The disease can manifest at different ages, and there is a wide range of variability in symptoms and rate of progression. The earlier the symptoms manifest, the higher the impact on muscular function is.

How Can Swimming Benefit SMA

SMA damages the nerves in the spinal cord that control our muscles, causing them to weaken. For this reason, experts recommend physical therapy for people with SMA.

As mobility is an issue while on land for children with SMA, water therapy is the best option. A recent study from Long Island University found that water therapy can help increase strength, mobility, and flexibility in SMA patients.


People with SMA can help improve their muscle strength with the help of water therapy. While moving around on land is difficult, in the water, these individuals can stretch and move their arms and legs more freely. By regularly exercising in the swimming pool, children with SMA can help maintain muscle strength.


The buoyancy of the water prevents gravity from having such a pull on the arms and legs, allowing SMA patients the freedom to move them and even bear weight on them.

Aquatic therapy can significantly improve the range of mobility. Some patients can stand and walk more freely while they are in the water and ultimately helps their movement on land as well.


The range of motion water offers allows for greater flexibility. Being able to stretch the arms and legs is invaluable for SMA children who spend their days in a wheelchair.

Mental Health

Water physiotherapy not only improves muscle strength, mobility, and flexibility; it also helps alleviate joint pain. Most importantly, it provides freedom, independence, and confidence that are known to improve the emotional and mental health of individuals with SMA.

Helpful Tips

Speak to a Certified Physical Therapist

While aqua therapy can be beneficial for anyone with SMA, it needs to be done by a certified physical therapist.

You shouldn’t do any form of physical therapy without supervision as this could cause more harm than good.

Use Appropriate Floating Devices

Inflatable neck rings and other floating devices can help keep the head above water and minimize the risk of swallowing the pool water or drowning.  These also are instrumental in providing the freedom to move around in the water.

Speak to your physical therapist to ensure you have the right floating devices.

Maintain Your Pool Crystal Clear

Some individuals with SMA have feeding tubes and catheters. Making sure the water is clean and disinfected will help prevent infections and other complications.

If you are planning or are already receiving aqua therapy sessions in your home, give us a call for a free consultation on how we can help your pool safe.

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