June 23, 2009
Pools Aren't Just for Recreation
Augusta, GA -- As Angela Griffin hands out bright pink "noodles" to the small group of ladies waiting in the pool, cheerily remarking, "Pink just makes you feel better, doesn't it?", you might think you've stumbled onto a social club. There's laughter, back-and-forth exchanges and chattering—lots of it.
But while summer, especially in the South, automatically conjures up images of beating the heat poolside, these ladies (and men) aren't hitting the pool for just recreation—they're using the pool to help them feel better.
"Back pain and other issues are common problems for a lot of people," said Griffin, who is a physical therapy assistant at Walton Rehabilitation Health System's Outpatient Therapy Center. "Aquatic therapy can help relieve pain through certain exercises and techniques that people do in the water. Because water makes you more buoyant, movements are easier, but you also have constant resistance. This helps you build strength, improve posture, increase blood flow—and relieve pain." (And Griffin has firsthand knowledge. When she fractured her ankle three years ago, she was down in the pool alongside her patients, using aquatic therapy to help her regain mobility and strength, without putting stress on her joint.)
During aquatic therapy (which patients can receive with a doctor's referral), patients typically have 45 minutes of therapy two to three times per week, with the length of the rehab depending upon the patient's progress and diagnosis. A physical therapist or PTA works with each patient to develop a customized exercise plan, including pain-relieving techniques, that patients complete during each session and can continue on their own after leaving the program. "We teach patients to listen to their body and determine what poses or positions might be exacerbating their pain, and to avoid them," said Griffin. "In addition, pain can often be relieved by certain exercises or positions. For example, a patient might benefit from leg extensions while using a noodle to help them float on their stomachs in the water. Each movement has a specific purpose to help build strength and relieve pain."
According to Griffin, aquatic therapy is appropriate for patients with all kinds of orthopedic issues, including back pain, neck pain, leg pain, shoulder pain, fractures and fibromyalgia. And because Walton's outpatient therapy pool is the only one in the CSRA that is heated to 97 degrees Fahrenheit, it makes arthritis sufferers happy too.
Patients are monitored constantly during their sessions, with therapists asking regularly, "What is your pain level?" And when one of her patients is determined to finish her exercises even though she's hurting from the exertion, Griffin is quick to stop her. "We do not believe in ‘No pain, no gain,'" she explained. "When your body is hurting, it's telling you something." Instead, she encourages her patient to relax into a pain-relieving position for several minutes. "One of our commandments is, ‘Thou shalt not suffereth,'" said Griffin, eliciting laughs and guffaws from the group.
Specific benefits of the aquatic therapy program include increased range of motion, greater joint flexibility, increased strength, improved balance and coordination, and better posture—all of which contribute to helping decrease pain levels. "A lot of pain is caused from poor posture," said Debbie Corley, a physical therapist at the Walton Outpatient Therapy Center. "Poor posture can lead to pain, fatigue and muscle soreness. But when you make muscles stronger and correct alignment, you decrease pain."
Patient also benefit from increased confidence as well as the social atmosphere of the sessions. "It's almost like a support group," said Griffin. "It combats depression, and there is a link between depression and pain in some cases."
Aquatic therapy is not for all patients—for example, patients with high blood pressure, fevers, infections or incontinence, or diabetics with a blood glucose level higher than 300, should not participate in aquatic therapy. Patients should talk with their physicians if they are interested in aquatic therapy. But for patients who qualify, "The final result is a better quality of life," said Griffin. "We focus on helping patients make this a lifestyle change so they can experience less pain during their everyday activities, and live life fully."
To make an appointment or referral to the Walton aquatic therapy program, call 706-823-8504.
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