Getting on swimmingly: Swim classes offer relief from arthritic pain

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Pain from arthritis can make it difficult to move, but one of the top recommendations for easing that pain is keeping active. While that can seem challenging, there are exercises that are easier on the joints, one of which is swimming.

Memorial Park Community Center offers an Arthritis Aquatics Program specifically designed for people with arthritis symptoms.

Heidi Perry has taught arthritis aquatic classes since 1992. Perry is certified by the Arthritis Foundation which created the course along with The Aquatic Exercise Association.

Perry holds the class in the therapy pool at the MCC. Temperatures are kept at 93 degrees Fahrenheit. The ability to swim isn’t a requirement because participants stay where they can stand in the pool.

“Not only does the hydrostatic pressure and the buoyancy of the water help, but the temperature helps to get the range of motion for the joints,” said Perry.

Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Todd Hannula said staying active is key to maintaining that strength and preventing worse symptoms.

“It’s been shown that people that maintain good strength, maintain their physical activity, really tolerate their arthritis better than somebody that sedentary so,” said Dr. Hannula. “So just maintaining activity really, actually provides benefit in terms of easing arthritis pain to some extent.”

Dr. Hannula says while exercising is important, enjoying it is equally so.

“I think most importantly, a form of exercise that’s going to be beneficial to you is something you enjoy, that you can stick with on a lifelong basis, or at least on a long term basis,” said Dr. Hannula. “People can participate in swimming at pretty much any level of participation they want, whether it’s from just playing in the water up to competitive swimming.”

The Arthritis Aquatics Program works on every joint from the top down. The exercises target range of motion and strengthen muscles around the joints to help with stabilization.

Perry ensures students understand the purpose of each exercise and have fun doing them.

“Some of them are pretty funny where we ‘take off our shirt’,” said Perry. “But you don’t think about that. You got to do it in ones where you reach up behind your back to buckle a bra or scratch your back, reaching to get the back of your hair when you’re brushing, and putting things up on shelves.”

Beyond the actual class, Perry said the act of getting to and from class provides benefits of its own.

“Being sedentary makes it worse on arthritis,” said Perry. “So getting up and out of their chair, coming to the facility and getting in the water and then going home, they’ve gotten to two times the exercise they even planned on.”

Margee Trivett has been taking Perry’s swim classes for nearly three years. She has osteoarthritis and says the classes have greatly improved her quality of life.

“I take two of her classes. So I’m in her classes four times a week,” said Trivett. “Some people say ‘I can’t believe you take both.’ Well, now that I’m stronger I can. I can’t and it’s wonderful. To be stronger, but the strongest I’ve ever been in my life.”

Beyond the physical benefits, Perry wants to give her students a social outlet as well.

“A lot of our seniors do not have partners at home anymore,” said Perry. “They need that socialization that makes them feel better.”

That is something Trivett said keeps her coming back each week.

“We have music, and we can talk and we socialize,” said Trivett. “We have just the big time. I can’t wait to get here. I can’t wait to get here.”

Perry encourages all of her students to talk to their doctor before starting her class. She said it’s open to anyone whether you have arthritis, joint pain, or are just looking for a good way to stay active.

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