CAMP ZAMA, Japan (Jan. 29, 2020) -- An aquatic physical therapy program available here since last summer provides a non-impact exercise alternative for patients with joint pain and limited mobility, the chief of physical therapy service at U.S. Army Medical Activity -- Japan said.

Informally known as "aqua therapy," the program is specially structured for patients who have lower-body injuries or joint problems that make it difficult or impossible to endure land-based or standing rehabilitation exercises, said Dr. Marycris Gandionco.

"The program is especially beneficial for post-operative patients," said Gandionco.

Before a patient is accepted for aqua therapy, Gandionco conducts an assessment in order to determine if he or she is an ideal candidate for the program. Since its inception, aqua therapy patients have included Soldiers, sailors from nearby Naval Air Facility Atsugi, civilian employees and their dependents, military retirees and contractors.

Using physical therapy to recover after surgery or an injury is important, Gandionco says, because the human body is "made of joints, and interconnected by joints." This means it is important to continue moving and retain mobility in order to strengthen those joints prevent them from getting stiff, she said.

A team of therapists hosts the hour-long program every Tuesday inside the pool at Camp Zama's Yano Fitness Center, leading a class of up to eight patients. For those who are partially, but not fully, recovered from an injury or surgery, Gandionco said aqua therapy is a good alternative on days when "patients are really in pain."

Sgt. Nobby Ona, a physical therapy technician assigned to MEDDAC-J, said that during each class, he instructs patients on how to properly and effectively exercise and strengthen their body while in the pool.

The program is helpful for patients who are having difficulties getting back to their normal daily activities, Ona said. Since becoming an instructor for the class, Ona said he has seen patients be able to exercise without having to worry about pain. He has received significant positive feedback from many patients who have been with the program for an extended period.

"This [program] provides another outlet for service members to increase their readiness," said Ona. "I feel this is an important program to have been introduced to the community."

Chief Warrant Officer 2 David Lightfoot, assigned to 311th Military Intelligence Battalion, is a patient in the program. In taking part, Lightfoot said he is trying to improve his readiness as a Soldier and strengthen the parts of his body that he has had problems regaining full mobility.

Being in the water allows him to do stretches and exercises that would be painful for him to do while standing, Lightfoot said.

"It's very challenging, but [the therapy] helps me make movements I couldn't normally make without water softening the impact," Lightfoot said. "I recommend it to other patients."

Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Aurora Contreras, assigned to Fleet Readiness Center Western Pacific at Atsugi, is also in the program. She said she had a lot of pain in her back when she first began aqua therapy, but it has lessened as she has continued. She attributes the program's effectiveness to instructors like Ona, who keeps the class engaged and motivated.

"This is a great program," said Contreras. "I feel like I am getting stronger."