Merit Health’s aquatic treadmill provides patients with rehab options

Published 11:30 am Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A new treadmill at Merit Health River Region’s clinic is helping rehab patients take a load off.

When Merit Health River Region opened its separate clinic housing therapy and primary care services, urology and rheumatology in May, the facility included the new Aqua-Fit Treadmill System. It’s an aquatic system using the buoyancy of water to decrease joint compression and pain during physical activity.

“Any time you have a body submerged in water, the properties of water allow it to float. It can reduce body weight anywhere from 50 to 90 percent,” said Frances Archer, the director of Rehabilitation Services. “It enables a person to walk or move with a lot of motion and to not exert as much energy.”

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The water is set to a comfort and therapeutic level for the patient and helps them increase muscle tone, strength and endurance. Archer said patients who are able to do more inside the water can do more when they get out.

At Merit Health, the physical therapist is beside their patients coaching them through exercises. This allows the therapist to see improvement in their patients.

“For us, this is showing to be a better way to work one-on-one with the patient,” Archer said. “Overall, the patients are loving the warm water, the exercises and the one-on-one and actually enjoying being able to do more in the water.”

Therapists specialize each workout to fit the needs of the individual patient. Susan Hoxie is a physical therapist for Merit Health and has seen patients with different conditions benefit using Aqua-Fit.

“Some of our patients with stenosis, which is an issue where there is narrowing in the spine, they don’t tolerate standing very long or walking very long,” Hoxie said. “This enables them to stand and walk for longer periods of time to build their endurance and tolerance in the water first.”

Hoxie said this system is good for patients with problems in their joints, knees and ankles. She said patients enjoy the system and don’t hurt while they’re exercising.

“Most of them find it relaxing and they can achieve a lot of things without increasing the pain they have,” Hoxie said.

The resistance of water is very helpful and strengthens the muscles. Resistance can be increased up to 50 percent in the treadmill with the use of jets.

Hoxie worked with Robert Clingan, who suffers chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, also known as COPD, Tuesday.

Clingan entered the 94-degree aquatic treadmill and let it fill to his chest. He then began walking slowly before moving to other exercises like stretching his legs and lifting up and down on his toes.

“I’m kind of surprised,” Clingan said. “It takes extra pressure off your joints and your movements aren’t impeded at all. You’re going to get more resistance than you would in the air, without putting pressure on your joints.”

Clingan has been using the system for two weeks and has has improved at every session.

“We’ve increased the distance he’s walked, speed he’s walked, the number of repetition of his exercises and the total time he’s been in here,” Hoxie said. “He’s improved exponentially.”