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Making physical therapy fun
BARSTOW • Physical therapy can be a scary term for some people. Those who are instructors at Chaparral Physical Therapy in Barstow are doing their best to change that.
Staying active can be an inconvenient or painful proposition for some. Those who have arthritis or are recovering from an injury or surgery may want to keep active, but don’t know how to do so safely and painlessly.
Chaparral has been open at its current location since 2000. The physical therapy program, which utilizes an on-site pool, has been around a lot longer. It started at the Al Vigil Community Swim Center, and when that closed, moved briefly to Dr. Pullen’s office before relocating to Melissa Street in Barstow.
Along the way, the program has become popular with those it has helped, so much so that several current instructors are past patients. Josephine Schutten is one of the co-founders of Friends of the Pool, started in 1993, and has been with the program since 1989; Andi Dutcher has been around since 1995; and Diane Dupuis has been an instructor for six years.
The program is designed to help those with physical limitations who want to stay active. Though there are many seniors who show up regularly, aquatic therapy is open to anyone of any age who feels the therapy would be beneficial.
“Water exercises all joints, head to toe,” said Dutcher. “My chiropractor recommended water therapy. With arthritis, you have to keep moving.”
The concept behind aquatic therapy is simple, according to instructor Vern Spidle.
“A pool program is probably the best therapy for arthritis,” he said. “The pool decompresses the joints. With arthritis you need to move or the joints get stiff and painful. Exercise can cause arthritis to flare up, but water takes pressure off the joints and combined with the moist heat, it decompresses and relieves pain.”
It requires warm water; the pool is set at 92 degrees.
“It’s fluid resistance, not jarring to the joints and muscles,” said Spidle. “It gives people with arthritis the chance to move the joints and get away with it.”
Unlike going to a gym, the goal is to just stretch the muscles and move the limbs, not ‘work out’.
“If it hurts, don’t do it. It’s not ‘no pain, no gain’. It’s not that kind of program,” said Dutcher. “It’s about physical well-being. I can go in feeling lousy and leave feeling great.”
That’s the aim of the program, which caters to those with medical conditions and those recovering from surgery, but is open to all.
“Sometimes a patient’s physical therapy is over, but they want to keep exercising,” said Dupuis. “A doctor’s referral isn’t necessary.”
“We try to help with special needs apart from medicine,” said Dutcher.
Chaparral is affiliated with the Arthritis Foundation of Riverside. Instructors are trained and licensed, and must go through a two-day training course every three years in order to stay licensed. That’s where the affiliation effectively ends, however.
“We take instruction from them when we get it, but we don’t get any money from them,” said Dutcher of the Arthritis Foundation. “We still have to send them our paperwork, but we had to pay individually for our certification.”
These days, money is tight for Chaparral, which is no surprise.
“With the economy down, it’s affected the Arthritis Foundation, just like everyone else,” said Dutcher. “People don’t donate much anymore.”
There’s also the general shifting of the landscape of healthcare.
“With the nature of healthcare changing, there aren’t a lot of therapy options open. And the problems will get more pressing with the aging of the Baby Boomers,” said Spidle. “We charge about the same as gym memberships, but our instructors are certified, unlike many gyms. We have CPR and safety training. I know of no injuries since the program started.”
In the summer, Friends of the Pool runs free arthritis aquatics at the Holiday MHP pool on Montana Road.
Those who join at Chaparral can go as often as they like. The program runs from 12-1 p.m. every weekday. For those not sure if the program is for them, the first class is free.
“Even though we get no help from the Foundation, it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg,” said Schutten. “We haven’t raised the price in years, and don’t intend to.”