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Aquatic therapy buoys recovering patients (January 13, 2011)

“The aquatic therapy really works,” said Gerald Harris who is recovering from a stroke. “When I’m out of the water, it’s hard to move my left arm and leg but when I’m in the water it feels good … just like there’s nothing wrong with it.”

“I’ve seen a lot of improvement,” said the Prince Frederick resident. “I use my leg more now and am able to stand up longer … and I’m able to raise my arm up a lot easier.”

The 50-year-old tile worker suffered a stroke in October 2009 and took aquatic therapy three times a week for three months.

“It’s a real workout,” said Harris, “but they work right with you. I feel like I’m getting the care I need. I would recommend it to anybody.”

Specially trained staff from Calvert Physical Therapy and Sports Fitness Center, an affiliate of Calvert Memorial Hospital, provides the aquatic therapy program at the Edward T. Hall Aquatic Center in Prince Frederick. The Calvert County Division of Parks and Recreation operates the aquatic center.

Innovative collaboration
“We’re very pleased about the relationship with the county pool,” said CMH President and CEO Jim Xinis. “This innovative collaboration allows us to provide local residents with convenient access to this service.”

“The aquatic center is a high-quality facility,” said Xinis, “and so many types of patients experience significant benefits from the aquatic therapy provided there.”

The aquatic therapy program is offered in a separate 28x52-foot heated therapy pool that is equipped with a chair lift, adjustable walking rails and an underwater bench around the perimeter. Additionally, there are locker rooms with changing stalls and handicapped accessible showers.

Low-impact alternative
"Aquatic therapy is a low-impact alternative to rehabilitation done on land,” said Michael Kuegler, director of Calvert Physical Therapy and Sports Fitness Center. "It’s great for people still with pain, spinal cord injuries, strokes, balance issues and other physical limitations."

“By exercising in the heated therapy pool,” said Kuegler, “the natural buoyancy of the water takes the pressure off the joints while strengthening the muscles.”

According to physical therapist Carrie Caronello, the heat of the pool water and the buoyancy allows patients to achieve joint range of motion with decreased pain. “In the clinic, we’re limited to what we can do with certain patients,” she said, “but working in the water can be helpful with someone is weak or who is recovering from surgery like a joint replacement.”

“I had a stroke patient who could walk a whole hour in the water,” said Caronello, “but couldn’t walk 100 feet on land.”

“We’re finding that people in the water really embrace the program,” she added. “Most like that it makes them feel better and it doesn’t hurt.”

She cautions that aquatic therapy is not suitable for everyone. People with cardiac disease should not participate. Those who have fevers, infections or incontinence are also not candidates. Always discuss with your personal physician before beginning an aquatic therapy program.

“Most people tell me they can’t believe they worked as hard as they did,” said Caronello. “The water creates resistance to movement that is 12 to 15 times greater than when the same movement is done on land.”

According to Caronello, each person’s aquatic therapy program will vary depending on his or her condition. Typically, most patients will go one to three times a week for an hour-long session for two to four weeks but stroke and orthopedic patients may go for an extended period of time based on their individual needs.

Many patients begin physical therapy with dry land training and transfer to aquatic therapy once they have reached their maximum benefit on land. Such was the case with breast cancer survivor Robin Henshaw, who had a mastectomy on the left side and all her lymph nodes removed.

“I’ve gone back to work now,” said the Sunderland resident, “but I still go to the county pool on the weekend and practice on my own.”

“After breast cancer surgery,” said Henshaw, “just the idea of moving your arm is painful but it was so nice to work out in the warm water and I was able to build up my strength.“

For more information about the aquatic therapy program, call 410-535-8180.

Cassie Williamson, PT Tech (at left) and Carrie Caronello, PT assist stroke patient Gerald Harris with his aquatic therapy in the therapy pool at the Edward T. Hall Aquatic Center.

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