Exercise then Reee...lax!

13/01/09: Pam Cruse, NRAS member, North Devon 

Taken from NRAS magazine, Winter 2008

Physio teamI showed the NRAS information to Ronnie Wilson, Rheumatology Physiotherapist, on my next visit and the ensuing conversation about the uncertainty that I, and probably others, have of taking exercise with painful joints led Ronnie to offer a block of six exercise sessions over six weeks. The aim was to work through mobility and strengthening exercises under her guidance and Ronnie would invite some patients to try the exercise sessions and some places would be available to patients who requested a place.

At the same time, Rheumatology Occupational Therapist Jo Harness, was starting a set of six ‘Relaxation as an aid to pain control’ sessions, which she arranged to hold immediately following the exercise group, so that patients could choose to attend both sessions. Information was circulated about both groups through the “Rheumers Newsletter” of the patient support group.

Exercise classThe first ‘Exercise Session’ saw us arrive in our loose clothing, looking a little uncertain and clutching drinks bottles. We were aiming to maintain and improve both joint mobility and muscle strength. We learned to gently exercise all of our joints from jaw and toes to hips and shoulders, sometimes lying on the floor, sometimes sitting on chairs, standing or moving around the room. It felt safe to give it a try under Ronnie’s guidance and in the company of others who understood any clumsiness or inability to complete a movement. Everyone did as much as they could at their own level and Ronnie adapted to individual needs.

Exercise classThe relaxation sessions, which followed, helped us to understand how pain can form an unending cycle that can prolong and intensify the pain. Understanding how muscles respond and how to relax can help to break that cycle of pain. There was a little talk about theory, but the sessions were mostly practical. We lay on the floor or sat in a chair to practise both active and passive relaxation techniques, Jo talking to us in a calm and almost hypnotic voice, telling us how to relax each set of muscles in turn. It was possible to feel the tension leaking out of tense limbs as we went through each muscle group in turn.

The sixth series of these sessions has just finished with another set of sessions set for early in 2009. The advantages and benefits of these sessions have been far more than the sum of the parts. Both the exercises and relaxation techniques can be practised at home, but many of us have progressed in our abilities and have been spurred into doing other things; swimming, weight loss, buying our own exercise ball or weights for use at home. I was surprised, when taking photographs of some of the current group, that they were so eager to add their comments to this piece and I believe that quotes from them are the best way to sum up the value of the small seed planted by NRAS in 2006 and the excellent work of our therapists.

Comments from members of the groups:

It helps the lonely, battling-on feeling I experience.”

“I just have to wiggle my toes and think of Jo talking to me to start relaxing.”

“It boosts my morale and helps me cope with the constant pain.”

“This is the first time I have been with others who share my problems!”

“Hearing how others get over their problems stimulates me to work on my own.”

“It has really made me think about how my body is working and how I can do a lot to help it function better.”

“I appreciate the camaraderie and the feel-good factor it gives me.”

“It has helped such a lot and I feel good about myself for making the effort.”

There are lots more, but two thoughts were echoed by all: “It stimulates me to exercise at home” and “We are so lucky to have this help.”