Pool exercises help sufferers

GETTING A LEG UP ON ARTHRITIS PAIN AT THE YMCA

June 15, 1993|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff Writer

"Just call us the chorus line," jokes Lydia Tall of Westminster as the class of arthritis sufferers lines up along the wall of the Carroll County YMCA pool and begins lifting first one leg, then the other.

"Try to do 15 if you can," instructor Nancy Starner urges the five women and one man participating in the warm-water exercise class.

The aquatic exercise program for arthritis patients is a joint venture between the Arthritis Foundation, Maryland Chapter, and the YMCA. The program at the Carroll County Y is one of nine in Maryland, most of them scheduled year-round in eight-week sessions.

The local Y received a $700 grant from the Arthritis Foundation in 1992 to support the program. Fees for participants are $21 per session for YMCA members, $43 for nonmembers.

Arthritis is more than just minor aches and pains, says a statement from the Arthritis Foundation. One in seven Americans has some form of the disease. It costs the U.S. economy an estimated $35 billion a year in medical care and lost wages.

Arthritis is actually a group of diseases that cause pain, swelling and redness in joints and connective tissue, the foundation reports.

Ms. Tall, a teacher with the Job Corps, joined the exercise class after her doctor recommended water therapy. It does seem to help, she says, adding that she believes it would be particularly helpful to someone who hasn't exercised recently.

Lauren Grap, Maryland chapter program director, says the aquatic exercises allow arthritis victims' muscles to relax. The water temperature must be at least 83 degrees, because cold water can cause muscle spasms.

The warmth and buoyancy of the water can help decrease stiffness or pain and improve or maintain joint flexibility, Ms. Grap says.

In 45-minute classes twice a week, Mrs. Starner leads hand exercises, then gets members of the group walking in a circle, forward and backward, to taped polkas or similar lively music. She follows up the walks with leg exercises to improve the flexibility of knees and ankles.

The instructor limits each exercise to 15 repetitions and frequently warns class members not to push to the point of pain.

Ms. Tall says she enjoys the social aspect of the class, making new friends and being in touch with people with the same disease. But she wishes for evening classes that would make it easier for her to attend, since she is employed.

The Y's evening pool schedule is tight, Mrs. Starner says. She's familiar with the problem, because she is always looking for pool time to accommodate the water exercise programs that she loves to teach.

Exercises for arthritis patients are designed by the Arthritis Foundation, which prescribes how they are to be taught, Mrs. Starner explains. An exercise instructor at Carroll County Physical Therapy Inc., she has taught aerobic exercises for 15 years.

She teaches exercises at the Eldersburg senior center and works with physical therapy patients at Carroll County General Hospital. But her first love is therapeutic exercise, particularly in the water. Her favorite people to work with are senior citizens.

When the Carroll County YMCA opened a building that had an indoor pool in June 1992, Mrs. Starner recalls, "I went to the director and said, 'Can we have this class and can I teach it?' "

The answer was yes, after she completed the Arthritis Foundation's required certification.

Mrs. Starner says some arthritis sufferers who take the aquatic exercise classes report dramatic improvement. One man told her the program helped him use his arms much more, elderly women have said they became able to pull themselves onto their walkers, and one older woman improved her muscle strength enough to get up from a chair unaided.

The exercises were designed by a national team of physical therapists and pharmacologists, Ms. Grap says. In a 12-hour training program, instructors seeking certification learn about arthritis, how to do the exercises and which ones cannot be applied, for example, to someone who has had a hip replaced.

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