Sue Ann May was only 25 when she began experiencing shooting pains in her arms and legs. Her movements were stilted, and even the smallest function seemed impossible at times.
"Walking, sitting, moving, using your arms, using your legs," she said.
At 66, the New Philadelphia woman is one of 50 million Americans who suffer from the crippling effects of arthritis, which affects the musculoskeletal system —joints, knees, back and hips.
But there are ways to stifle the impact of the disease and improve quality of life. The biggest is exercise, which May said her doctors urged her to do from a young age. That's what the Arthritis Foundation recommends as well in addition to some specific therapies, the most popular involving warm water.
Fourteen years ago, May began engaging in a warm-water exercise class offered through a Twinges class at the Tuscarawas County YMCA. Each time she steps into the heated pool, she can feel her whole body relax. Her instructor begins with the head, neck, shoulders, arms, legs down to the ankles. Every muscle is exercised, and the joints along with them.
"When I first came, here my arm would only go like this," May said, demonstrating how she could barely raise her arm, let alone reach above her head.
May is grateful to be a part of the program. In fact, several area residents are, as the Twinges classes are very popular, noted Stacy Harlan, aquatics director for the YMCA.
Harlan said the class is based on exercises recommended by the Arthritis Foundation. "We've taken it and made it our own."
The class is one of five programs that is sponsored by the United Way of Tuscarawas County. Harlan said the Tuscarawas County United Way covers the large expense of maintaining a heated pool, which is necessary for people with joint pain. She said it also allows the organization to keep classes free to members and offer a scholarship program to those who aren't able to afford a membership.
The United Way, which is trying to raise $600,000 for its annual campaign, also supports four other programs at the YMCA as well, said Keith Lands, executive director of the Tuscarawas County YMCA.
Lands said the YMCA receives funds to run Camp Butterfly, a camp for children with special needs, a preschool with a Christian leaning, and an educational outreach program for individuals with diabetes or prediabetes. He said some of the programs were initially funded by the state and would have been cut or become extremely expensive if it weren't for the United Way funding.
Harlan said the YMCA is grateful for the suppor,t because there are numerous people involved in the Twinges classes. There are six different classes, with of 10 to 20 people in each.
Page 2 of 2 - The results, Harlan said, are tremendous, with participants being able to go about their daily routines.
"We teach that a body in motion stays in motion," she said.
Twinges instructor Kathy Sanders can attest to that.
"The more pain you have, the more important it is to exercise," she said.
Sanders knows from experience. Before instructing a class of 56- to 90-year-olds, Sanders was a student dealing with her own pain. She was diagnosed in her early 30s. For the most part, she tried not to let the pain interfere with her life, especially at her former job as a high-school teacher for Dover City Schools.
However, Sanders suffered a severe setback two years before her retirement, when had a flareup in her knees. "I missed a lot of school and came back in a wheelchair," she said.
Afterward, she went to physical therapy and started taking the Twinges night classes. After retiring, Sanders began leading the classes herself, and is happy to see her core group every week.
"These people make exercise a priority," she said. "They schedule their lives around coming to this class, because it makes them feel somewhat better. That's the motivation. They can move. Their quality of life is better."
Betty Klinger also enjoys the camaraderie.
"My husband died nine years ago," she said. "When I started coming, it was (for) more of the social aspect. Some of us stay afterwards and have coffee."
That means a lot to the 72-year-old woman, who has suffered major setbacks following a car accident that crushed all of the bones in her feet in 1991 and who also has joint issues.
It means a lot to everyone in Sanders' class. Of course, it also means a lot to be able to stretch and perform daily functions without being in pain.
May would know.
"If I didn't do it, I couldn't move," she said.
To donate, checks can be sent to 1458 Fifth Street NW, P.O. Box 525, New Philadelphia, OH 44663 or online at www.tuscunitedway.org.
Reach Meghan at 330-364-8419 or email@example.com
On Twitter @mmilleaTR