By Kate Vander Wiede

Aquatic therapy was the first step in addressing Gray’s excruciating knee pain

When Judy Gray first came to Performance Physical Therapy, she had such excruciating knee pain she could hardly get around. She had to leave her teaching job after moving around became too difficult. She was no longer able to drive. She had to use a walker to get around, and even then, she was only able to go short distances. After a friend suggested that physical therapy might help, she decided to give it a try.

“I didn’t have a goal,” Gray said of what she expected from physical therapy. “But I didn’t think I could survive much longer with all the pain. I felt like I was going downhill.”

After an initial evaluation revealed the amount of pain Gray was in, physical therapist and clinic director Dr. Kara Chace got Gray straight in the pool.

Aquatic therapy, done in a 92-degree specializes pool, is often used when the stress of gravity is too great when moving on land. In the pool, given the lessened stress on her joints, Gray was able to do exercises she couldn’t yet do out of the water, like range of motion, mini-squats, and hip-strengthening exercises. Physical Therapist Assistant Tim Keohane, the former Aquatics Director at Pawtucket, was in the pool alongside her for her first few visits to help her work through the exercises. By her fifth visit or so, she was able to do them on her own in the pool.

The 12′ x 16′ pool includes underwater treadmills, resistant swim jets, an attachable massage hose and a heating unit that allows for variable water temperatures.  

After a month of progression in the water, and with the pain in her knees subsiding, Gray started to split time between aquatic therapy with Keohane and land-based therapy with Dr. Chace. Another month in and Gray was able to do all of her exercises on land. Dr. Chace also performed some manual therapy techniques like patella mobilization and passive knee range of motion exercises, which she hadn’t been able to do initially because of the pain.

Gray was impressed with Dr. Chace and Keohane. And not just because of their skill and ability to help her progress. “They were very attentive and they took my input into,” Gray said of the staff. “I felt like I had a voice in my own treatment plan, but with expert guidance.”

Dr. Chace said that Gray’s success, though, was due to her own motivation and persistence. “She’s wonderful,” Dr. Chace said. “She was so motivated to get better, and she did it. [The transformation she went through in terms of her outlook and her quality of life from day one to now is just incredible.”

Just three months after coming in, Gray graduated from regular physical therapy for her knees and entered Performance’s PT’s supervised gym program. Former patients can enter a supervised program where they come in twice a week to work through their physical therapy exercises with an exercise specialist. Gray said that the supervised exercising allowed her to work in a space that is set up specifically for people like her who aren’t ready for a traditional gym setting or even for walking on the treadmill.

Over the course of physical therapy, Gray had a few setbacks with pain, but she is by and large doing great today. She’s able to drive. She’s back in the classroom again a few hours a week. And though she needs her walker for long trips around the mall or the grocery store, she doesn’t need it for much else.

“To see everybody, to be back in the loop – it’s very important to me to get back into normal life,” Gray said. “I am just so happy to be back.”