ALTON — An aquatic therapy program is filling area patients with new hope for recovery.
Alton resident and aquatic therapy patient Rose Mary Oglesby started therapy Sept. 1 at Alton Physical Therapy and credits her progress to the twice-weekly sessions.
“It feels more like you’re floating than running,” she says. “It’s relaxing.”
That feeling of weightlessness is less painful and more conducive to recovery.
“It’s really helped loosen up my ankle and knee,” Oglesby says. “I had a lot of swelling at first and I could barely even walk; now it’s just a dull pain, and I only have to use a cane for support.”
Oglesby fractured her patella and sprained her ankle July 31 after a lumbar surgery earlier in the year. After a month of bed rest, she was recommended aquatic physical therapy. Her progress is one of physical therapist Jenny Gargac’s favorite stories.
Gargac has worked at Alton Physical Therapy since graduating from Maryville University in 1994 and has been involved with the aquatic program since it started in 1996.
“At that time, we treated patients at an off-site pool at Beverly Farms in Godfrey,” Gargac says. “We opened the on-site pool in 2001.”
Since then, the program has increased in popularity.
“We have about 40 or 50 visits a week to the pool,” she says. “We also see a large variety of patients, from teens to the elderly.”
Gargac explains the program is most beneficial to patients who have weight-bearing restrictions from surgery and patients with multiple joint involvement.
“It’s really effective for post-surgical knees, ankles and hips, as well as post-surgical shoulders with limitations in strength,” she says. “We also see quite a few post-surgical spine patients, and a lot of patients with arthritis as well.”
The facility contains a HydroWorx Pool with a 46- to 54-inch depth. The pool includes an underwater treadmill, resistive jets with a connected massage hose and two underwater cameras for the patient to receive feedback on personal progress. Outside the pool is a variety of exercise equipment, including buoyant boards, cuffs, paddles and dumbbells for trunk stability and strengthening the shoulders.
The pool is maintained at a temperature ranging from 92 to 94 degrees for maximal therapeutic effect. That comfort isn’t the only reason the aquatic program is popular, however.
“The buoyancy of the water helps to decompress weight-bearing on lower extremities and the spine, and the water provides a resistance which helps our patients naturally increase their strength,” Gargac says. “The hydrostatic pressure of the water helps prevent any lower extremity swelling from increasing during exercise.”
Gargac says the average patient attends therapy two to three times a week in 45-minute sessions.
“Most patients start their session with stretching and flexibility exercises, followed by range of motion or strengthening exercises depending on their specific needs,” she says. “After that, there’s treadmill activity: forward walking, backward walking or lateral motion.”
Outside of the facility, Gargac stresses the importance of complying to home exercises. Oglesby says she does a variety of light ankle and knee exercises in the morning and evening to help accelerate her recovery.
“Most patients are transitioned from aquatic to land-based therapy once their condition improves,” Gargac says. “ We like our patients to seek out a local health club with a pool, such as Nautilus, Leisure World or Metro Sports just to name a few. Our ultimate goal is for our patients to be functional in their community after therapy.”
Each patient’s story, physical requirement and activity level is different, but Gargac is moved by progress.
“It’s very rewarding to see a patient that comes in on crutches, unable to put weight on an extremity, able to walk or run with little to no issue after therapy,” she says. “We had a patient that underwent total hip replacement and completed the Wood River Triathlon seven months later. She credits a lot of that to our equipment.”
In the wake of success stories such as those mentioned above, Gargac is optimistic about the program’s future.
“I think it will continue to be popular for patients as a starting point and transition,” she says.
Alton Physical Therapy operates in Alton at its main facility, in Jerseyville at Jersey Community Hospital, and in Staunton at Community Memorial Hospital. The main facility is located at 1719 Clawson St. and operates from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. For information, call (618) 462-1133 or visit www.altonpt.com.