Sensory Deprivation and Physical Therapy


Sensory Deprivation Tanks as a Compliment to Physical Rehabilitation
Anyone who knows me understands that I am all about taking care of myself both mentally and physically. Recently on my journey of self-improvement, I embarked on a new experience that I have been hearing about for the past few years now: floating. Yes, floating, right here on Earth of all places. This is achieved via sensory deprivation tanks, also called isolation tanks. In a nutshell, a sensory deprivation tank is roughly an 8 by 4 foot enclosed pod with highly concentrated Epsom salt water. The density of the water allows for the individual to float on the surface in a relaxed position, with the eyes, nose, and mouth just above the water to allow for breathing. Inside the pod is complete darkness, and with the ears submerged in the water, the pod is virtually soundproof. The water and air inside the pod are also heated to 94.2 degrees Fahrenheit, which is roughly the surface temperature of your skin.
Sensory deprivation tanks have been around since 1954 and have had many uses for the purpose of meditation, relaxation, and various forms of alternative medicine. They were designed with the intent to promote ultimate relaxation by depriving the body of all sensory input. In theory, by creating an atmosphere of complete nothingness, an individual’s central nervous system is able to “go to sleep” and recharge. Some go as far as saying that sensory deprivation tanks are the closest thing to experiencing complete weightlessness like that experienced by astronauts in outer space.
So how effective is sensory deprivation floating and how can it be beneficial to physical rehabilitation? Current research shows that floatation does have an overall positive effect on numerous chronic stress-related ailments including anxiety, depression, and fibromyalgia. Physically, research has shown that floatation leads to reduced cortisol levels, which is a hormone that is often elevated with individuals who report excessive levels of stress.
From my own floating experience, I couldn’t help but think of numerous patients of mine that could benefit from such an experience like this. In my time as a physical therapist I have seen a lot of stress-induced musculoskeletal dysfunction. More often than not, excessive stress will present itself as increased muscle tension. While I was floating, I could tell my central nervous system was shutting down. I can’t recall another moment in my life where my muscles were as relaxed as they were in that tank, to the point where I had to mentally think about how I was going to move each of my joints to be able to get out of the tank when my session was over. I had to literally reconnect with my body, and it was awesome. I also noticed that any areas of tension that I had going into the tank were completely relaxed after I got out of the tank.
All in all, my experience with sensory deprivation floating was a positive one, to the point that I am writing this blog to let people know that in my opinion it can be a great compliment to physical rehabilitation. In particular, I feel that individuals that deal with a lot of stress induced muscle tension will be able to get some relief. So if physical and mental relaxation sounds appealing to you, give floating a try. It truly is an out of this world experience.