Experts say exercise offers a reprieve for those who commit to it.
"Exercise is incredibly beneficial for people with arthritis," says Dr. Steven Klein, a rheumatologist in practice in Hagerstown and Cumberland, Md. "Gazillions" of studies have been done to prove that exercise helps, he says. But he also gets evidence from his patients.
"They rave about how good they feel. It's almost uncanny," he says. He's happy when people feel better and need less medication. He calls exercise the single most cost-effective treatment.
Several arthritis aquatics classes are offered at the Y, and classes led by Arthritis Foundation-certified instructors also are held at other local pools.
Don't like the water?
There are classes for landlubbers with arthritis.
PACE (People with Arthritis Can Exercise) classes - no pool involved - are offered through Hagerstown Community College's Center for Continuing Education.
Klein recommends PACE classes for patients. The aquatics classes also are good, but not everyone has the time for those, he says.
Exercise helps people with arthritis by reducing joint pain and stiffness, increasing flexibility, muscle strength, cardiac fitness and endurance.
In a recent class at the Y, Meinelschmidt, aquatics director, led 14 people through an hourlong program - stretching and flexing every joint. Fingers and toes, wrists and elbows, necks and shoulders, hips, knees and ankles.
The 88-degree water provides buoyancy and gentle resistance, says James Johnson, who also is certified as an instructor by the Arthritis Foundation. "The exercises are a lot softer," he says.
Winnie Miller of Hagerstown has been in the class since last spring. "My hands are very bad," she says of the arthritis that affects her. Her husband, Henry Miller, recently joined the group. "He really needs it," Winnie Miller says. He had knee replacement surgery last fall, she explains.
The water exercise helps her, and she says she likes the instruction the class provides. "I like being with a group," she adds.
Being with a group is part of the reason Pat Luipersbeck, 67, of Hagerstown enjoys the Tuesday morning PACE class at Hagerstown Seventh Day Adventist Church. "It's a support group. We have so much fun," she says.
Hagerstown resident Jane Crippen, 71, has been coming to the PACE class for a few years. Her 92-year-old mother, Margaret Nixon, also attends frequently.
The class, led by Sylvia Rodgers, takes its members through an hour divided into 15-minute segments of warm-up, resistance - exercises done with a stretchy band-abdominal work and "mini-aerobics" to get the heart rate up a bit. Some of the exercises are done in chairs, some standing.
As in the water class, every joint gets attention.
"It has really helped me," says Lorraine Griffin, 81, of Hagerstown, who's been taking PACE classes since 1994. "The social aspect is nice, too," she adds.
"Lunges? I thought you said lunches," jokes Eleanor Holdway. The 80-year-old Hagerstown resident who uses a cane says the exercise helps her.
Richard Boswell, 66, a retired truck driver, has been coming to the aquatics classes on good days. "It does help," he says.
At age 30, Jennifer Inzeo is the "baby" of the class in the warm water pool. Diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, she's tried walking and light aerobics classes but wasn't able to continue. "You get discouraged because it hurts," she says.
She's hoping that the aquatics class will help her.
"Everybody get a noodle," Meinelschmidt yells to the class.
Class members rally to the long brightly colored foam tubes before they scatter around the pool, noodles supporting them as they lean back and pedal as if they were riding bicycles.
"None of them could go out and do this on the (stationary) bike," Meinelschmidt says. But in the pool, they can work up to being able to do 15 minutes, she says.
Arthritis classes in the Tri-State area
- Arthritis Foundation PACE classes are offered through Hagerstown Community College's Center for Continuing Education. For information, call 301-790-2800, ext. 442.
- Arthritis Aquatics classes: Classes are offered at the Richard A. Henson Family YMCA in Hagerstown and Oak Ridge. Call Karen Meinelschmidt, 301-739-3990. For The Village at Robinwood, call 1-240-420-4126.
- Aquatics classes at Robinwood's Total Rehab Care, 301-714-4025
- Aquatics classes at YMCA, Waynesboro, Pa., 1-717-762-6012
- Aquatics classes at YMCA, Chambersburg, Pa., 1-717-263-8508
- For information about being certified as an arthritis exercise instructor, call Marsha Duncan at the Arthritis Foundation's Western Maryland Region office, 1-800-750-9078.