New hydrotherapy offers alternative option for treating ailments affecting hands, feet and joints
Donna Omdahl, 86, of rural Warren, Minn., has suffered from nerve damage, or "peripheral neuropathy," in her feet for many years. She doesn't know what caused it.
"It feels like numbness all the time. My feet were cold," she said.
"There hasn't been anything to do for it until now."
In a local newspaper ad, Omdahl learned about a new technology, called Aquaroll, that Dr. Mark Pederson, a chiropractor, had installed at Family Chiropractic in Warren in February. He was offering free trials, the ad said. She decided to try it.
Pleased with the results, she has been using the therapy for a couple of weeks.
"This is my sixth treatment," she said, while resting her foot in the tub of the machine that stands about three feet high in the corner of a small room.
The tub is partially filled with hot water and 30,000 tiny glass beads that swirl rapidly around her foot.
"It's called 'circumferential percussive hydrotherapy,' " Pederson said. "You get that wave action."
The hydrotherapy, which acts on the body's lymphatic, nervous and circulatory systems, has been shown to increase the amount of nutrients and oxygen in a targeted area and to enhance nerve signalling, he said.
Omdahl comes in twice a week to place one foot, then the other, in the Aquaroll machine for 12 to 15 minutes each time.
"My feet don't feel numb anymore," she said. "I don't have cold feet anymore."
Pederson has other patients who use Aquaroll to relieve neuropathy, which can be painful.
"They say it feels like walking on shards of glass," he said.
Peripheral neuropathy is a "challenging" condition, he said. "You'd probably need 10 to 12 sessions" of the hydromassage therapy to see improvement.
For tendonitis, people should see results after four or five sessions, he said.
After initial treatment, a "stabilizing treatment" would be needed once every three months.
The Aquaroll therapy is especially useful for healing conditions that affect the hand, wrist, foot and ankle, such as swelling, joint stiffness, ligament sprains and strains, decreased range of motion, among other ailments, he said.
Each treatment session usually takes from 12 to 15 minutes.
It has also been used to rejuvenate skin, he said. Looking at before-and-after photos of a hand, for example, the after photo "appears to be a younger hand."
In addition to peripheral neuropathy, Aquaroll has been used to ease symptoms that occur with fibromyalgia, arthritis, plantar fasciitis, tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome and wrist synovitis.
It can also help in the treatment of "trigger finger," in which the joint locks in a bent position, Pederson said. The condition often affects the thumb.
"We have a lot of elderly people in this region who have degenerative changes in their joints," he said. "With this treatment the joints are much looser and pain is markedly reduced."
He's happy to witness his patients' reactions to the changes they experience with Aquaroll therapy, he said. "I love the results."
"An older gentleman took his foot out of there and started dancing," Pederson recalled with a laugh.
He had Morton's neuroma, a swollen or thickened nerve in the ball of the foot, which can make it painful to walk, he said. "It's like walking on a rock."
An elderly lady, stricken with arthritis in her hands, was amazed by restored ability to move her fingers and kept flexing them after treatment.
Some conditions, such as tendonitis, call for the use of cold, rather than hot, water.
The machine is sterilized after use by each patient, said Debbie Hanson, chiropractic assistant.
'Like a message'
Pederson learned about Aquaroll from a professional colleague who practices in Pennsylvania, he said. "He was excited by the results."
The technology was first used to treat post-surgery scarring, he said, noting that a hand surgeon in Florida realized that it could be applied to a wider range of problems.
When Pederson acquired the Aquaroll machine, a representative of the Florida-based company installed the technology and trained his staff on its use.
Melody Olson, 42, of Warren, who sought the treatment for plantar fasciitis in her right foot, said, "It's very relaxing."
"The beads are rolling on your feet. It feels like a massage at first. When you take your foot out, it feels tingly."
Plantar fasciitis, which is caused by straining the ligament that supports the foot's arch, is the most common source of heel pain, according to WebMD.
"It's very painful," Olson said. "It feels like a heel spur—like it pokes you when you walk."
The owner of a local restaurant, she is on her feet from 12 to 15 hours a day, she said. She's been dealing with problem for about two years.
"There's no way, as the owner, you cannot not be there."
Her physician prescribed an insert for her shoe, but "that "wasn't working very well."
Pederson recommended one or two Aquaroll sessions a week for 12 weeks, along with a custom-made orthotic shoe insert, she said.
By mid-May, she had completed three weeks of treatment. After 12 weeks, she'll decide whether to continue with a maintenance program, which will bring her back once every three months or so.
She is happy with the results, she said. "The (Aquaroll) machine is great. It makes you feel really refreshed."
Jean Bach, 59, drives nearly 30 miles from her home in Thief River Falls to use Aquaroll for fibromyalgia and neuropathy, which causes numbness in her foot.
Her neuropathy "is the inherited kind," she said. "It runs in my family."
Bach has been taking prescription pain medication for fibromyalgia.
"I'm being treated with pain management—which means more pills," she said. "I got to a point where I'm on too much medication."
Pain medication "is very hard on everything else in your body, like the kidneys or liver," she said. "You don't ever want to take anything unless you have to."
Fibromyalgia causes so much pain, "you don't feel like getting out of a chair."
"It's hard to describe to a doctor. It affects your shoulders, hips, everything. You never really know, on any day, where you're going to have pain."
When she learned about Aquaroll, she said, "I decided there was nothing to lose" by trying it.
Three months ago, Pederson prescribed 24 sessions, two sessions per week for 12 weeks.
"I have feeling in my foot again," she said. "Now I can feel my toes, and feel when I touch them. "Before, my foot was numb, I'd say, two-thirds of the time."
Lack of feeling in her foot made walking more hazardous,.
"If you can't feel your foot, you can't feel if you're on a step or not," she said.
She can't discern even slight changes in surface levels on the ground. As a result, she's fallen several times.
Bach is pleased with the Aquaroll treatment, she said. "It's not an instant cure—nothing really is."
She will discuss it with her doctor at her next appointment, she said, but she thinks the doctor will be supportive..
"She knows I'm getting more crippled up all the time."
With neuropathy and fibromyalgia, "there's no cure," Bach said. "Pain management is what's out there" for treatment.
"I think everybody is kind of looking for an alternative."