Aquatic ther­apy helps get peo­ple back on their feet

Ther­a­pist: warm wa­ter, buoy­ancy make the dif­fer­ence

Maryland Independent - - Business - By DARWIN WEIGEL dweigel@somd­ Twit­ter: @somd_bized­i­tor

Jane Benitz of North Beach has been mostly con­fined to a wheelchair for the past 20 years with chronic pain from a spinal in­jury and arthri­tis. Six months of aquatic phys­i­cal ther­apy in 2015 changed all that.

“When I started, I couldn’t even stand to take a shower,” Benitz said. “I just did over 200 reps of the cross-countr y ski­ing in the deep end, and it feels like how I used to when I could go for a two mile walk — how it used to feel just to move freely.”

Benitz had just climbed out of the ther­apy pool at the Ed­ward T. Hall Aquatic Cen­ter in Prince Fred­er­ick where phys­i­cal ther­a­pist Beth Nowak was work­ing with cur­rent and for­mer pa­tients, get­ting them on a path of heal­ing and fit­ness.

“By far, this is the nicest ther­apy pool fa­cil­ity I’ve seen any­where, and I’ve lived all over the coun­try,” Nowak said. “Calvert’s re­ally for­tu­nate to have this cal­iber of a ther­apy pool.”

A spe­cial­ist in aquatic ther­apy, Nowak has been work­ing with pa­tients three days a week at the pool for the last five years, most re­cently with Bay­side Phys­i­cal Ther­apy and Sports Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion in Prince Fred­er­ick. She said, un­like other pools she’s worked in, the ther­apy pool here is large enough to have dif­fer­ent exercises go­ing on at the same time and in­cludes a chair lift for those with less mo­bil­ity, as well as a deep and shal­low end, plus some­thing in be­tween.

“I can ac­tu­ally use that to seat peo­ple in the pool where I can do mo­bi­liza­tions to their feet, an­kles, knees, hips — what­ever they need,” Nowak said of the mo­tor­ized lift. “We do see sev­eral pa­tients that are wheelchair bound that on land are non-am­bu­la­tory, due to sig­nif­i­cant weak­ness or lack of sen­sa­tion — a lot of folks that have strokes or other neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­or­ders than can’t walk on land. We can get them in the wa­ter.”

“They can do so much in here, in this en­vi­ron­ment, be­cause of the buoy­ancy of the wa­ter,” she added. “Most peo­ple we see in here, to ask them to do an hour’s worth of ex­er­cise out­side of the pool would re­ally be dif­fi­cult.” Two sets of par­al­lel bars in the mod­er­ate and shal­low sec­tions help get peo­ple walk­ing.

But it’s the wa­ter tem­per­a­ture that re­ally makes the dif­fer­ence.

“They keep it heated to about 92 de­grees [Fahren­heit], which is what they call the ‘ther­a­peu­tic tem­per­a­ture’ that al­lows the mus­cles to re­lax,” she said. “It makes a huge dif­fer­ence.”

“I can’t swim there,” Benitz said, point­ing to the reg­u­lar pool which is kept about 10 de­grees cooler, “I go into mus­cle spasms. The warm wa­ter is the key.”

Cin­dra Mi­rales had a “two-level fu­sion” surger y on her back in Septem­ber to cor­rect a painful prob­lem di­ag­nosed in 2011 and used aquatic ther­apy to build up strength and flex­i­bil­ity be­fore and af­ter the surger y.

“It re­ally made a huge dif­fer­ence be­ing able to strengthen ev­ery­thing be­fore the surgery,” the Prince Fred­er­ick woman said. “Af­ter surgery, I’ve been do­ing it since Oc­to­ber and they’re go­ing to dis­charge me at the end of De­cem­ber. They can’t get me any stronger than what they’ve al­ready got­ten me. It’s been ab­so­lutely the most won­der­ful thing.”

Mi­rales said she planned to con­tinue ex­er­cis­ing in the wa­ter af­ter her ther­apy is of­fi­cially over. She’ll be among many oth­ers who con­tinue at the pool af­ter their for­mal ther­apy regimes end.

“They take their lunch break from noon to 1 [p.m.], so if you’ve been a pre­vi­ous client, they al­low you to come in from 12 to 1 while they’re sit­ting on the deck tak­ing their lunch and run through your exercises and use their equip­ment. I al­ways take ad­van­tage of that,” Mi­rales said.

Evelyn Vazquez of Prince Fred­er­ick first broke her an­kle in 1993, which led to in­creas­ing pain in walk­ing later in life and a to­tal an­kle re­place­ment in Septem­ber. Af­ter the surgery, ter­res­trial phys­i­cal ther­apy seemed to not be help­ing get her back on her feet, she said, so she started aquatic ther­apy.

“In a month and a half, I can now walk,” Vazquez said. “I was us­ing a walker. Now I just use a cane just as a cau­tious kind of thing. I’m ac­tu­ally putting full weight on it and walk­ing. I’m able to go up steps now.

“I spend time cook­ing in the kitchen now, where be­fore I couldn’t do that,” she said. “The wa­ter ther­apy has been mirac­u­lous, for me, in get­ting that move­ment go­ing — and flex­i­bil­ity.”

Nowak said she sees two pa­tients per hour from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Mon­day, Wed­nes­day and Fri­day at the ther­apy pool, set­ting goals and de­sign­ing in­di­vid­ual ex­er­cise pro­grams for each.

“We try to grad­u­ally tran­si­tion them to a land­based pro­gram, be­cause not ev­ery­body lives in the wa­ter — no­body lives in the wa­ter,” Nowak said.

“It’s quite mov­ing when you get some­body in the wa­ter that has not been able to walk for a very, very long time and they can take steps,” she added. “You just see the tears com­ing: they’re happy tears.”

“It gave me a way to ex­er­cise,” Benitz said, hav­ing be­come less de­pen­dent on her wheelchair. “I’m do­ing great. I’ve lost close to a 100 pounds now; I’m off a lot of med­i­ca­tions, I’m sleep­ing bet­ter and have less pain.”

“I just can’t say enough what an awe­some fa­cil­ity we have here,” Mi­rales said.


Beth Nowak, a phys­i­cal ther­a­pist at Bay­side Phys­i­cal Ther­apy in Prince Fred­er­ick, poses in the ther­apy pool at the Ed­ward T. Hall Aquatic Cen­ter.

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