Melanie Kilgore, a physical therapy assistant with Active Day of Somerset, lowers Kenny Perkins into the pool

for therapy. He suffers from diabetes, which has decreased circulation to his right foot. Gary Thurman watches, he is in therapy for back pain.

By Heather Pyles

here’s nothing like a nice, warm dip in the pool to relax those aching muscles and joints. Or, better yet, there’s nothing like a warm dip in the pool to help those suffering from chronic pain and joint issues regain parts of their lives back they may have once thought to be gone for good. Just ask Gary Thurman, one patient taking advantage of an aquatic therapy program located at the YMCA through Active Day of Somerset Outpatient Therapy. “I can see some improvement when I’m in that water,” Thurman said. “I can do things I couldn’t do before.” Thurman has suffered from chronic pain since he injured his back years ago, and he had learned to simply deal with the severe pain — which meant limiting what he could do in everyday life — before his

T

doctor told him about the aquatic therapy program. “Year, after year, after year, after year,” Thurman said about the pain that had overtaken his life. “It’s always there.” And while Thurman isn’t pain-free, the therapy — considered an alternative to physical therapy, which can be too painful for sufferers of specific problems — has helped him regain the use of muscles and joints he’d quit using long ago. The therapy can also help a person deal with the pain without the use of highly addictive, strong narcotics — or deal with the pain with the use of fewer narcotics. “I could tell I was getting a little stronger in the water,” Thurman said. “I was using muscles I hadn’t used in years.” Active Day Center Rehab Administrator Judy Harmon
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August 2009

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said many people who suffer from chronic ailments like longterm back and joint pain, fibromyalgia (a disease that causes extreme pain over the entire body), muscular sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and diabetes (causing a significant decrease in circulation) are pulled into a “vicious cycle” that renders their bodies weaker than when they began. “So many people with chronic pain issues ... don’t exercise because it hurts,” Harmon said. That reaction is a normal one. Severe pain naturally causes one to consider not using the joint or muscle that is causing the difficulties, and he or she assumes using the problem joint or muscle would aggaravate it and only cause more pain. That may be true temporarily, but Harmon and Active Day Center Physical Therapist Sonya Beattie said that sets up a series of events that lead to the affected area receiving less circulation and losing strength. The body’s circulation system

delivers oxygen to the tissue, and without that oxygen, that tissue begins to die. Beattie said the body effectively cuts off circulation to an area once it’s convinced that the area does not need the oxygen. Many diabetics struggle with such a significant decrease in circulation to areas such as the foot that they’re often forced to have those limbs amputated. For Kenny Perkins, that couldn’t be more true. Perkins suffers from diabetes, which has led to circulation problems in his limbs, specifically his right foot. “I couldn’t sleep of the night but for four or five hours,” Perkins said. “My leg would go completely numb.” Perkins said his right leg would also become ice cold for periods of time, and he said his doctor told him the foot would have to be amputated if the circulation didn’t improve. That’s when the aquatic therapy program became a possibility. Perkins, who must stay in a wheelchair because he cannot

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Southern Kentucky Health & Family Journal

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Gary Thurman, 54, injured his back several years ago and has dealt with chronic pain for a long time. He’s in therapy to help relieve that pain and regain some movement back that he hasn’t been able to do in years.
put any weight on his right foot, is able to use the foot with limitations for the 30 minutes to one hour he’s in the therapy pool. Those sessions — usually twice a week — have helped Perkins’ body begin to re-establish circulation and bring lifesaving oxygen to the problem area. “People who can’t even stand on land by themselves can stand in the water without help,” Beattie said. The water effectively helps “unload” the ailing joints and muscles, which helps the patient use those areas and assists in lessening the pain. But that doesn’t mean the therapy is a bed of roses. Beattie said at first many patients are fooled into thinking they can do

things they really can’t — which can lead to even more injuries. “I’d of killed myself if I’d tried to do that (the therapy) by myself,” Perkins said. “ They make me slow down and they take my pulse.” Beattie said the important thing to remember is baby steps for aquatic therapy patients, thought she pointed out that patients who are relatively healthy and recovering from knee or hip replacement surgery are expected to make progress at a quicker speed than those suffering from long-term issues. And the therapy helps cardiovascular health as well. “You don’t think about pool therapy being cardiovascular exercise, but it certainly is,” said Harmon. And many patients simply enjoy the therapy, which is an added bonus. “It (the therapy) has helped me a whole lot,” Thurman said. “I enjoy the water anyway.” Thurman said he may need to undergo a knee replacement

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surgery in the enar future, and he said while he knows recovery will be difficult, he knows it’s doable with the help of the aquatic therapy program. “It won’t be as hard getting back this time as last time,” Thurman said. Both men plan on continuing the therapy as long as they need it, and they’re looking forward to taking the methods and tools they learned to continue the therapy on their own — something that wouldn’t be fathomable without the help of Active Day Center. “These ladies have all been super,” Thurman said. “It takes a special person to do this and they listen to your problems. “Sometimes that’s all it takes is somebody just

to listen,” Thurman added. Perkins is delighted that the therapy has helped him stave off amputation for that much longer, and he said he’ll continue to work toward a healthier life — with the help of those at the Active Day Center. “I’m going to try to keep my leg as long as I can,” Perkins said. While Thurman and Perkins have both benefited from the therapy, along with several other patients, Harmon and Beattie said not everyone will qualify as a candidate for the program. For more information about the program and for information on those who may be candidates for the program can call Judy Harmon at the Active Day Center at 606-678-8566, ext. 27. I

Kenny Perkins, 54, suffers from diabetes, and is in therapy to try to stave off amputation of the foot. It’s seemed to have worked so far. He can sleep all night now (before, his whole leg would go numb and wake him up, and it would be ice cold too) and put a bit of weight on it in the water ... but not much.

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