By Jill Hamilton, Professional Engagement Manager, National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society
Exercise is the single most important thing that anyone with axial SpA (AS) can do to self-manage their condition. It’s not always possible though; if someone is experiencing a flare or has severe physical disability as a result of their condition then exercising on land can be pretty much impossible. Exercising in water however is a lot easier; the warmth and the buoyancy make stretches more effective, it’s less painful, it’s easier to stay upright because the effect of gravity is less, it requires less physical effort and afterwards you usually have a really good night’s sleep!
In my time working at NASS I have had the privilege to see first-hand the benefits that people with axial spondyloarthritis (axial SpA) including ankylosing spondylitis (AS) have from being able to exercise in a hydrotherapy pool. Through our network of branches and local NHS services, people with axial SpA (AS) have been well looked after over the years.
I recall visiting one of our branches a while back and a member walked in whilst I was giving an update on what was happening at NASS. He came in clearly in the middle of a massive flare and looked completely crushed when he saw that we were sitting around talking. ‘Is there no hydrotherapy tonight?’ he asked, barely able to walk as his joints had stiffened up and the pain had taken over his body. At this point I stopped talking and said, ‘OK that’s enough from me, time for hydrotherapy everyone’. I knew from looking at him he couldn’t wait a minute longer – medication was having no effect and hydrotherapy was the only thing that was going to help him, even for just a few hours.
It saddens me that in recent years, the closure of hydrotherapy pools has become more common in NHS settings. Too often they are seen as a waste of money and an easy way for the trust or CCG to save some cash. It is a misunderstood form of treatment – to those who don’t use hydrotherapy it is a luxury; for those who do use it, it is essential to keep mobile and minimise pain.
NASS recently funded some research conducted by Melanie Martin, Advanced Physiotherapy Practitioner at Guy’s Hospital in London and Claire Jeffries, Physiotherapy Manager and Clinical Specialist in Hydrotherapy and Rheumatology at Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth, which looked at attitudes towards hydrotherapy. On average, people gave 7.7 out of 10 for how much hydrotherapy complemented their care overall.
Some of the recent comments that have been published by NHS trusts have been incredibly short-sighted. It seems that their view is, if it isn’t a cure, it’s not a valid treatment. Surgery and pharmacological interventions just aren’t possible for everyone though and so finding alternative forms of treatment is vital.
For a person who lives with chronic pain, the benefits of any treatment are very important; having those few days where you can feel ‘normal’ and get on with your every-day tasks are priceless. Don’t we all deserve those moments?
NASS is joining forces with other organisations to campaign to save our hydrotherapy pools. If you know of a pool under threat or simply would like to learn more about how to advertise your pool and utilise it to the fullest, get in touch. The hydrotherapy pools that are the most successful and the most protected is where they are used by people with a range of conditions and needs. We need to get the message out there just how important this treatment is, and we need the support of ARMA members to do it.