FRIDAY, May 9, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Like so many others, Barbara Hunting suffered the effects of osteoarthritis long before she knew she had the painful condition.
"I would take the elevator or escalator instead of the stairs," remembers the 43-year-old attorney. "I looked for parking spaces close to the store. I would not go to certain social functions if I knew there would be a lot of standing or walking because I knew my knee would ache."
"My knees have bothered me on and off for a while, but I'm overweight and I thought that was what it was," she adds.
It wasn't until Hunting had X-rays taken after a car accident in 1999 that she discovered she had severe arthritis under both knee caps. The arthritis had been there for a while.
"I was really surprised," says Hunting, who lives in Palm Harbor, Fla. "Where the heck did that come from and how do I get rid of it?"
Genetics probably explains where the arthritis came from (Hunting's mother has severe arthritis in her thumb and left knee). As for getting rid of it, Hunting's orthopedist told her she would eventually have to have both knee caps replaced.
In the meantime, Hunting embarked on a course of physical therapy to repair the soft-tissue injuries. After that, weight work helped her back, but it didn't do much for her knees.
Hunting's salvation, in a sense, came from an aquatic program in a nearby pool. "I started going to the water program primarily to help my back [which had been hurt in the car accident] and found that it did wonders for my knees," Hunting recalls.
The program was almost like an aerobic workout in water and included some swimming, a lot of movement, resistance work and stretching and limbering exercises.
"I really found that being in warm water for some reason just wound up taking the pain away and allowed my knee to function a lot better after I got out," Hunting says. "I don't know if it's the warmth or the water that takes the pressure off or if it strengthens the muscles."
In fact, according to the Arthritis Foundation, water exercise lets you exercise without putting excess strain on your joints and muscles. The exercise helps the arthritis by gradually building up the muscles so they can support the joints better.
The improvements were so striking that Hunting talked her mother into going as well. Now that the program has ended, mother and daughter are continuing on their own in a heated community pool.
Hunting takes Tylenol once or twice every couple of weeks if her knees are bothering her. She also makes sure she wears shoes that support most of her foot. She got rid of the slip-ons, but mostly she uses the water therapy to help control her arthritis.
Her knees have improved enough to allow her to start walking on dry land again, something she had started years earlier in an effort to lose weight. Her mother has mastered the stairs, and has even ventured to the grocery store. "It made a tremendous amount of difference," Hunting says.
The Arthritis Foundation has more on its aquatic program.