West Park’s warm-pool programs help ease the effects of arthritis

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West Park Healthcare Centre’s hydrotherapy pool is an oasis for those seeking ways to lessen the painful effects of arthritis and other rheumatic conditions.

In a time of limited community resources, with a small number of warm pools available to the public, Toronto’s West Park Healthcare Centre, a Rehabilitation and Complex Continuing Care hospital, continues to grow its warm-pool programs for patients and community members who suffer from painful, mobility-limiting conditions such as arthritis.

Warm-pools and hydrotherapy (physiotherapy conducted in a warm pool) have long been used to help individuals manage the pain, joint stiffness and immobility that may be associated with arthritis. For those with limited mobility or whose arthritic condition impedes function, water exercise provides a safe, soothing environment to gently exercise joints and muscles.

Water acts as resistance to help build muscle strength, and water buoyancy lessens the stress on joints to improve mobility, balance and function. Warm water also raises blood pressure, resulting in increased circulation. And for those with chronic pain, the heat of the water – West Park maintains its pool at a constant 94°F – helps loosen tight muscles and relieve pain.

For inpatients and community members alike, West Park’s warm-pool programs – hydrotherapy and warm-pool chronic pain aquafit classes – can play an important role in their rehabilitation, pain management and continuum of care.

Janet Mulgrave, service manager for Geriatric Function Enhancement and Musculoskeletal Services, says some patients come to West Park specifically because it offers hydrotherapy. “Patients tell us they would not have been able to achieve the results they did if they were having therapy solely on land, Mulgrave said. “It’s very complimentary to the therapy they receive on land.”

Quite often, once inpatients are discharged, they will continue to access hydrotherapy or aquafit classes for maintenance and as a preventative measure.

Dave Ursomarzo, who manages the warm-pool chronic pain aquafit classes and hydrotherapy services for the West Park Pro Active Healthcare wellness and rehabilitation clinic, has seen the positive results experienced by community members as well. “Participants have really seen improvement with the classes, and we have many who suffer from different levels of arthritis. In addition to lessening their pain and stiffness, they’ve told us the classes have raised their energy levels and helped them reach their fullest functional potential. They’re really excited about the program.”

Agnes Ruhland, an aquafit participant with arthritis, agrees the benefits of aquafit and hydrotherapy have been great. Ruhland has been an inpatient and outpatient at West Park after two surgeries and has been using the warm-pool for over two years. “It does wonders for my arthritis, which I have in just about every joint in my body,” Ruhland says. “Being able to move in that wonderful warm water helped my recovery and chronic pain management.”

The clinic has grown its warm-pool chronic pain aquafit program from two classes to six classes per week, and is planning additional classes to keep up with the public demand.

West Park offers hydrotherapy for inpatients, outpatients and to the public. A physician’s referral may not be required. For additional information on hydrotherapy, please contact West Park Healthcare Centre at (416) 243-3600 or email feedback@westpark.org. Additionally, community members interested in aquafit classes can contact West Park Pro Active Healthcare at 416-243-3778 or email proactive@westpark.org.