MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A unique form of physical therapy is gaining patients across the Twin Cities.

Occupational Therapists at Park Nicollet are enrolling more clients than ever in Aquatic Therapy, which uses warm swimming pool water to help people dealing with everything from chronic pain to depression.

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The pool temperature is warmer than an average swimming pool.

Patient Cindy Olson, 69, said she was skeptical at first, but the therapy has changed her life for the better.

She tried almost everything for two decades to control chronic shoulder pain from an old injury, but she was not interested in aquatic therapy.

“I thought about getting wet, itchy skin from the pool, the chlorine, just all of those things,” Olson said. “I just couldn’t see how exercising in the pool would be different than outside the pool.”

(credit: CBS)

Summer Shepstone, Olson’s occupational therapist, explained aquatic therapy is not like swimming in your average pool.

“When I mention it to patients, people are often very surprised that it is an option,” Shepstone said.

She says the pools used for aquatic therapy are typically 10-degrees warmer than regular pools.

They are heated to 88 to 92 degrees, which is the surface temperature of most peoples’ skin.

“It is very safe and calming to the body,” Shepstone said.

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Through simple exercises, the water resistance and warmth helps treat chronic pain, as well as depression and anxiety that can often be linked to pain.

“Chronic pain patients often grieve things they used to be able to do or maybe a life they wish they could get back,” Shepstone said.

Olson says this was true for her.

“You end up not going out or you stay home because you’re worried you are not going to feel good,” Olson said. “Pretty soon you find your life just gets smaller and smaller.”

Sick of missing out, Olson dipped into a heated pool in St. Louis Park. Her skepticism floated away in the water.

“I found I had more energy and was more relaxed,” Olson said. “I was really surprised.”

Olson now does aquatic therapy at least once per week.

Aquatic therapy is not a cure, and Park Nicollet staff uses it with a series of lifestyle changes for patients.

But the therapy gives Olson hope; something she knows so many people suffering from chronic pain need.

Many health organizations estimate as many as 100 million Americans live with some type of chronic pain.

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Shepstone said clinics can work with patients to find special heated pools near them, and many insurance providers do cover the treatment.