A step toward relief

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Wednesday, May 7, 2008
— Debi Ashley has struggled with back pain since she was 16, when she was run over by a tractor and broke three bones in her back.

Trouble with the sciatic nerve in her right leg also has prevented her from exercising on a treadmill or bicycle.

But now Ashley, 51, Janesville, is finding relief.

As a patient in the Mercy Institute of Neuroscience, Ashley is one of the first participants of My-Step, a partnership between the hospital and the YMCA of Northern Rock County.

Some people with back pain have a legitimate fear of exercise, said Dr. Karen Bridge, a chiropractor at the institute, also known as MIND. The goal of the collaboration between Mercy and the YMCA is to get patients into the habit of exercising starting with warm water therapy, she said.

MIND patients typically are post-surgical or have many areas of chronic pain, she said.

“The purpose is to transition the patients from fear of exercise to becoming active again and being a part of the community, changing their lifestyle to one of being active,” she said.

My-Step stands for Mercy-YMCA Spinal Therapeutic Exercise Program. Here’s how it works:

A MIND doctor refers a patient to My-Step and creates a program of progressing intensity. For example, a doctor might prescribe only water walking for the first three months, later add bicycling and treadmill walking before allowing group-based strength exercises.

Patients meet with Wendy Eastman, aquatics director at the downtown YMCA, for a training session and then are free to use the facility at their convenience. Eastman checks with patients once a week.

The collaboration expands on the YMCA’s vision of working with the community to provide new programming, Eastman said.

“It’s one of the first programs that I know of that’s been set forth in the community,” she said. “It’s just been great—working with the people has been awesome.”

Participants tell Eastman they feel good after the therapy, saying it’s the best program they’ve found to help with their pain management.

To participate in My-Step, patients pay a $99 fee that gives them a three-month membership to the YMCA. Doctors can renew the membership up to three times, but after that patients need to become members on their own, Bridge said.

Mercy will be looking to expand My-Step to patients in cardiology, the diabetes center, orthopedics and eventually system wide, she said.

Ashley has been going to the Y two to three times a week for water walking, and at times uses equipment such as noodles and strength-training items in the pool.

“I am a water person anyway,” she said. “Being in the water and having some extra weight on helps balance the pain that I have in my back.”

She’s seeing an improvement in her right leg, she said, and the water therapy is helping with her intermittent pain.

As a MIND patient, Ashley also meets with a nutritionist to monitor eating habits, another doctor who assists her with a strength program and a psychologist to discuss issues that might cause eating problems.

“I’ve never had a program that’s been all-encompassing,” she said.


Cooler water found in swimming pools at schools and hotels can work against a patient, said Wendy Eastman, aquatics director at the YMCA of Northern Rock County.

Warmer water is better on a person’s joints because it soothes them. Colder water tenses them up, she said.

“Colder water makes muscles constrict more,” she said. “Warmer water loosens them up.”

People tend to be more relaxed in warmer water, she said.

The downtown YMCA’s renovations to create an aquatics facility with a warm water pool provided the location and features for which Mercy was looking to start My-Step.

“Janesville’s really been in a need of a place where patients can do water walking,” said Mercy chiropractor Dr. Karen Bridge.

The zero-depth entry pool makes it more accessible, and through the My-Step program, patients don’t have to commit to a yearlong club membership when all they want to use is the pool, she said.

Last updated: 9:12 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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