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Compared with other diseases such as cancer, heart disease and even obesity, arthritis is a low profile affliction, which generates little sympathy and attracts lesser funding from the bigger companies for research and the development of treatment or potential cure.

Yet this disease can be extremely debilitating and affects millions of the populace worldwide. The attitude seems to be very much that it is an "old age thing" that must be endured. The two most common types of arthritis are rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Both are very painful conditions involving inflammation of joints and soft tissue to a varying degree.

As a volunteer assistant leader in a warm water exercise class for people with arthritis, I am in regular contact with this unfortunate condition and have been able to see first hand the pain and reduced mobility that arthritis can inflict. I have also seen the great benefit that the warm water exercise class can give to the participants. The members, both male and female, attend almost religiously and come from all walks of life. Their regular attendance is further evidence that they sense an improvement in strength and general mobility, although this is obvious from just monitoring their progress on a weekly basis. Many led a very active life before being struck with arthritis and find it psychologically difficult to come to terms with the enforced slower pace of life.

As the joints become inflamed, movement becomes painful and difficult and so leads to reduced use of that joint. As a consequence of this, the joints become stiff and range of motion is further decreased, making movement even more difficult. So the vicious circle is perpetuated. The warm water exercise can greatly assist in breaking this cycle. The warmth of the water, ideally between 83 and 86 degrees F, relaxes and soothes the muscles and joints easing the pain and discomfort usually associated with movement.

Flexibility is greatly improved. The buoyancy takes the stress from the joints and further alleviates the pain. Suddenly, when immersed in water, the class members find that they can move and stretch again. Not only is this good physically, it's also a great psychological boost. To be relatively pain free and surrounded by warm water induces a sense on well being and comfort. I always smile a little to myself when I see them come into the pool. They remind me of penguins- a little awkward and clumsy on land but transformed into mermaids as the warmth and buoyancy of the water ease stress and pain from aching joints. The benefits of the regular sessions extend well beyond the duration of the class and their gait is much less stilted and awkward when they leave. Equally important, the pain factor is reduced and mood elevated.

Using the natural resistance of the water, muscle tone can be improved without the danger of incurring further damage to tissue that conventional land based weight training may induce. As osteoporosis is often a complication with arthritis, resistance training can, to a degree, take the place of load bearing exercises which is one of the recommended prophylactics for loss of bone mass. As the buoyancy of the water reduces the impact on joints when walking, a moderate amount of cardiac benefit can also be achieved as it becomes much easier to walk at an increased pace and workload is further increased with the turbulence and water resistance.

This exercise regime is not a treatment or cure, unfortunately and it should not replace the recommendations of a personal physician or physical therapist. There is no doubt though, when listening to the accolades and testimonials of the members attending the class that the rewards of warm water exercise are substantial and that warm water exercise is an invaluable adjunct to other therapy.