A new class funded by the Oregon Health Authority gives arthritis sufferers tools to ease the pain of walking

Photo Credit: JASON CHANEY - From left, Carrol Landis, Karen Yeargain and Bob Orlando complete laps around Pioneer Park during a Walk with Ease class.

Crook County Health Department Health Educator Kris Williams was shocked when she heard what percentage of local residents suffer from arthritis.

“Thirty percent of Crook County residents have been diagnosed,” she said. “That is so scary to me.”

To help ease the pain of people who are afflicted with the condition, which causes painful inflammation of the joints, Williams and Health Department VISTA representative Alyssa Bruhn have been conducting a class called Walking with Ease.

“The Arthritis Foundation is doing a really big push because it’s well known that the number one way to relieve arthritis pain and reduce arthritis symptoms is walking because it is low impact,” Williams said. “It’s free, as opposed to maybe swimming, which is also low impact, but you usually have to pay to use the pool.”

Williams can personally vouch how effective walking can be as she is living with arthritis and experienced the benefits of the activity.

“The pain is horrible,” she said. “Sometimes drugs just don’t touch it, but if you can actually move those joints, it has been proven that continuous low-impact physical activity really reduces that pain.”

The class began on July 8 with three sessions per week, and will conclude on Aug. 15. It is funded by the Oregon Health Authority, which provided money it receives from the Center for Disease Control for arthritis prevention and education to three counties, including Crook.

Meeting in the covered stage area at Pioneer Park, the class starts with a brief lecture from a variety of topics important to people suffering from arthritis. Past sessions have taught participants about proper walking form, walking surfaces, correct posture and proper shoes.

“It teaches a lot,” Bruhn said. “There is a lot of education about why walking is good for arthritis - teaching about what kind of exercise you should be getting and not overdoing it.”

From there, the class moves on to a warm-up session and stretching, something that Williams said they try to emphasize for participants in order to help them avoid injury and increase flexibility, strength and stamina.

The walking portion of the class follows, and then participants are asked to complete cool down exercises and stretch again.

The class is designed for those who can stand for 10 minutes at a time, and takes people who walk with the assistance of a walking stick or walker. Since starting the program, Williams and Bruhn have seen encouraging results.

“We asked last Friday what change they had seen in the last three weeks,” said Williams. “I was totally blown away. Everybody increased their stamina by at least a half a lap (around the park) and some by five or six laps. One of the participants no longer needed to use his walking stick. He had better balance, he was able to walk farther, and he was sleeping better.”

Although the current class is scheduled to end on Aug. 15, a new nine-week class coordinated by Mosaic Medical will start next Wednesday, Aug. 6, and meet twice a week. Williams has yet to find a suitable indoor location for the fall and winter classes, but is hoping to continue the program and help more people with arthritis ease their pain.

“We are really excited about it,” she said.

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