Aquatic therapy can work wonders
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — When Robin Randell’s pain gets really bad, she can’t even get out of bed.
Her back problems started when she was 18 and have been getting worse ever since.
“I have every disc deteriorated,” Randell said. “I don’t have a good disk in my body.” And it’s hard for other people to understand what it’s like to live with chronic pain — not just in her back, but in her neck, ribs, hips — throughout her whole body.
That’s why the recent aquatic therapy Randell has been receiving has been truly transformational.
While Randell used to need a cane and walked with a significant lean, she’s been able to stop using the cane and is walking almost totally straight up.
“It’s been helping tremendously,” Randell said. “You’re just so lightweight when you are in the water.”
The aquatic therapy is part of a growing partnership between UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center and Old Town Hot Springs.
Randell is the first patient to benefit from the aquatic therapy program.
About a year ago, YVMC announced a $1 million donation to Old Town Hot Springs’ capital campaign, “establishing a ten-year partnership between the two independent nonprofits focused on wellness for people of all ages.”
Missy Amato, a physical therapist at UCHealth SportsMed Clinic, said the pool can work as a tool to break a detrimental cycle that can happen with patients like Randell: the pain gets so bad she spends more time sedentary, and the more time she spends sedentary, the stiffer and weaker her body becomes with less tolerance for movement.
“We are able to do a lot more in water than we traditionally do on land,” Amato said. “Water therapy is meant to be a transition — because we don’t live in the water. We can start building strength, with the ultimate goal of having better tolerance on land. We can improve strength and range of mobility in the water as a starting point to progressing things on land.”
Randell describes it as “heaven.” She’d stay in the pool all day with Amato if she could.
Amato, described Randell, uses a variety of tools and techniques to stretch her out, walking around her in the water, she “makes me like a worm.”
The buoyancy of the water, explained Amato, reduces the load on Randell’s joints and “creates space within the joints and vertebrae.” It also creates support and lift. The warmth of the water has benefits like increasing blood flow to tissue and relaxing muscles, she said.
And, of course, the Old Town Hot Springs isn’t just any old pool — the healing property of the minerals from natural water source were known as “medicine” springs by the Utes who first settled in the area.
For patients with weight bearing restrictions, the pool can provide partial weight bearing exercises until patients are strong enough for more, Amato said. Patients can also do more challenging exercises in the water. “The buoyancy creates support for the body. It lets patients explore balance and boundaries and strategies for recovery in a safer environment than on land.” In the water, they can’t fall over.
The water also provides resistance, which can be utilized at different water depths and speeds, depending on how much resistance is needed.
After physical therapy sessions on land, Randell would leave in pain. After a pool session, she feels better.
“I am in pain every day,” she said. “And there is no stopping that, but there is a way to lessen it.”
The aquatic therapy is also lessening Randell’s need for pain medication, a big goal of hers.
Not long ago, Randell was being told by doctors there was nothing more they could do for her, and that she would soon be in a wheelchair.
A self-described “happy-go-lucky person,” Randell is an optimist and a fighter. She isn’t ready for a wheelchair. But, a lot of people “can’t imagine I’m in this kind of pain because I’m so happy.”
Finally, aquatic therapy is making a huge difference in Randell’s life.
“All my friends tell me, ‘Robin — you look so much better,’” Randell said. She’s lost weight, and she’s been able to be more active — which has both physical and psychological benefits.
She hadn’t spent much time at the pool before starting the therapy sessions. A membership just wasn’t in her budget. But now, through a funding program, she’s been granted a six-month membership.
“I don’t want my pain to define me,” Randell said. “I’m trying to not let my back win. I’m going to keep fighting.”
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