When it comes to exercise, Trisha Kult, 34, of Omaha, has more challenges than the average person. Limited to a wheelchair due to spina bifida, Kult sought assistance at a physical therapy clinic in a strip mall a few years ago. Unfortunately, they did not know how to help her.
Then, she turned to Alegent Health. Within a week, Kult was following a routine of land and warm-water exercises set up by the physical therapy staff. "It’s been very successful,” said Kult. “I am so much stronger and have a lot less pain now.” Two years later, Kult has lost 20 pounds. She works out in the pool and gym twice a week at the $12.2 million Outpatient Rehabilitation Center that recently opened at Immanuel Medical Center in Omaha.
The state-of-the-art therapy pool, constructed by the German firm KBE Bauelemente, has a moveable floor that can be raised and lowered to adjust the water depth. Kult can roll into the pool in her wheelchair and wait for the water to rise. ”I can walk in the pool - there's no place else I can go to do that,” said Kult. “It's great for me. I’m tired when I get home, but it’s good for my heart."
Kult uses parallel bars in the water to work her abdominal muscles, which helps her get in and out of her wheelchair. She can even bring her service dog, Chapel, a golden retriever, to the rehab center. "My stamina is better now. I'm using different strokes to move core muscles,” said Kult. “I used to need rest after three to four hours of sitting in my chair.”
Warm-water therapy is particularly effective for patients with arthritis, back pain, joint pain or orthopaedic injuries, sports injuries and neurological or muscle deficits. Patients can move more freely in the water to increase muscle strength and tone, range of motion and mobility.
“We deal with a large population that has chronic pain,” said Mary Rosenberg, R.T., physical therapist. “The buoyancy of the water supports a person and the warmth helps them relax muscles that have been guarding or protecting a painful joint. This can help them exercise with less pain.” In addition, a person who is waist deep in the water will feel a 50 percent decrease in the pull of gravity, says Rosenberg.
“We have patients who can barely walk,” says Rosenberg. “We are able to get them into the water and the buoyancy helps them walk.” This means Geraldine Howard, of Omaha, who is recovering from double knee-replacement surgery, can get into therapy faster.
Howard comes in for 30 minutes of aquatic therapy every day - working to get her strength back after surgery. The new pool and surroundings add to the healing environment. “It’s so much more uplifting,” says Howard. “It is a little easier to work out when I can see outside while I’m in the new pool.”
When patients complete their skilled care, they often want to keep exercising in warm water, said Rosenberg. “We offer a variety of community classes, which are a nice springboard when a patient is done with therapy.” The Aquatic Center offers services from one-on-one skilled care with a therapist to group therapy to a retail-style membership program, which has attracted 400 people.
For a low monthly fee, the aquatic center membership offers general fitness classes and open times for individual exercise. Most notable, however, is that members can join “like-diagnosis” groups, exercising with others who have conditions such as arthritis, diabetes or back-and-spine pain. When patients come together three times a week, they develop camaraderie as a group, and that improves their long-term health, said Rosenberg. Aquatics is a great way to initiate an exercise program and maintain general fitness, she noted.
Warm-water therapy has made a splash with baby boomers, who want options as they begin to notice the aches and pains of aging, says Jill Powers, administrator for Alegent Health Rehabilitation Services. “People are interested in prevention, education and staying healthy – so much so that they are willing to do something about it,” said Powers.
Savvy consumers are taking ownership of their own exercise programs and seeking low-cost options. The 50-year-old with joint pain is a bit young for joint replacement surgery, but can manage pain with warm-water exercise. Not only is warm-water therapy effective, but it also costs less than surgery, said Powers.
In addition to the aquatic center, the outpatient rehabilitation center features a physical and outpatient therapy gym and onsite care by physiatrists (physicians who specialize in physical medicine and rehabilitation), said Powers. “Basically, we’ve created a continuum of care,” said Powers. “Patients can come to one location instead of being bounced from one place to another for their care, and that makes it convenient for them.”
The gym has state-of-the-art equipment for a variety of diagnostics, such as balance-and-mobility assessments and strength and flexibility.
To arrange a visit of the Alegent Health Rehabilitation Center, contact Jill Powers, operations leader for Rehab Services, at (402) 572-2398. For more information, visit www.alegent.com/rehab.