Just Add Water

The Mansfield Community Center in Mansfield, Conn., is offering residents a new ingredient to help mend their bodies -- just add water.

Aqua therapy has become an increasing trend in the parks and recreation arena. As more people turn to aquatics to get fit, they also see the benefits for treating arthritis, chronic pain and poor circulation, and for help with recovery from accidents and injuries.

Aqua therapy has been a part of the center’s repertoire for the last three years. In order to offer quality classes without incurring additional costs, the center partnered with Select Medical--a local physical therapy office. This allows Select Medical to rent pool space to help rehabilitate clients; in exchange, Select Medical therapists conduct the classes for the center’s members.

“We are fortunate to have really great instructors who are certified in physical therapy,” says Elle Noel, Aquatics Director. “It’s become a very sought-after class by our members and other residents of the community.”

The Nuts And Bolts

During rental times when therapists are working with clients, members still have access to the pool. During class times, the pool is solely for the class.

The aqua-therapy programs are open to both members of the community center and non-members, but members have first dibs on the classes. The program has been so successful that there is always a waiting list; the center is now looking to increase its class offerings.

The classes are offered twice a week in 45-minute sessions. Participants are limited to 10 to 12 per class to ensure that each person is receiving enough attention. The sessions incorporate both group activities and one-on-one therapy.

The cost is $81 for members and $109 for non-members. In order to accommodate all participants’ needs, class members who work with an assistant or aide are permitted to bring them to the classes free of charge.

Poolside View

The classes take place in a 93- to 95-degree therapy pool. The therapy pool is smaller than a traditional pool, and is kept at warmer temperatures to loosen muscles.

The pool has a gradual slope, making it easier to enter, and also has a handicap-lift that is ADA-approved. The pool begins at 4 feet and advances to 5 feet at its deepest, allowing the water to be about chest-to-waist high in most areas.

“The depth is important because the person needs to be submerged. In aqua therapy, he or she uses the water resistance as a tool,” says Noel.

Equipment for an aqua-therapy course includes therapy paddles, noodles, aqua belts and bar bells. The community center had most of the equipment already for aqua-fitness class offerings, but had to purchase the hand-held therapy paddles, which allow for changes in water resistance to let more or less water through.

Beneficial For All

Noel explains that the difference between aqua therapy and traditional aqua-fitness courses is the former course helps with reducing pain and aggravation due to health-related injuries, while the goals of the latter course are mainly cardio and stretching.

One of the participants, 55-year-old Kenneth Jones, started the program due to chronic pain issues associated with two total-knee replacements, three fused vertebrae and a rotator-cuff injury.

“This class has been a blessing for me, and I look forward to attending every week,” he says. “Not only has it improved my overall health, but it has allowed me to be part of a group and connect with people who have similar issues and concerns.”

Since taking the class, Ken has gained more mobility in his joints, feels more flexible overall, and has gained strength in his knees, shoulder and back. He says his doctors have even commented on his health improvements, and encouraged him to keep taking the class.

There are often repeat participants, says Noel. “Sometimes we have people who came from rehab and still need some help increasing their flexibility and range of motion. Others just need to keep working on their bodies and feel it’s important to continue their classes.”

The classes also can accommodate wheelchair-bound residents, giving them a chance to exercise.

Noel attributes the overall success of the program to the partnership with Select Medical.

“The key to running a successful program is finding the right instructors,” says Noel. “We have found instructors with expertise and patience, and they have made all of the difference.”

Heather Reichle is a freelance writer living in Columbus, Ohio. She can be reached via e-mail at HReichle28@yahoo.com.