Bellingham retiree turns to physical therapy to ease her knee pain


1 14 Prime Seils

Beth Seils, 68, of Bellingham works to strengthen her knee muscles with physical therapist Emily Milner at Core Physical Therapy in Bellingham Tuesday, Nov 26, 2013.


Name: Elizabeth Seils.

Age: 68.

Hometown: Seils was born into a blue-collar family in the Chicago suburb of La Grange, Ill. She taught mostly eighth-grade English a couple towns over, and directed school drama productions for 31 years.

Family: Seils met her current husband, Herb Seils, on and has been married for 13 years. Seils says she had always wanted to live in Washington because of the mild climate and evergreen trees. They decided to move to Bellingham in 2002 after being drawn to the small-town atmosphere with big-city amenities.

Seils has two grown daughters from a previous marriage who live in Chicago.

Volunteering: After retiring in 2002, Seils has kept busy by giving tours at Mount Baker Theatre. She recently worked backstage for a production of "The Producers," helping three male actors with their costumes.

Nine months ago, Seils also began volunteering at Whatcom Literacy Council as a reading specialist to help kids improve their literacy skills.

Debilitating joints: Seils was diagnosed with arthritis early this year after the pain in her knees became so excruciating that she couldn't walk for more than a few minutes.

The last time her knees felt normal was more than three years ago, and even then her left knee would collapse without warning. The problem worsened after she marched in the 2012 Ski to Sea parade with a group of women as part of an umbrella drill team.

It became too painful for Seils to go on the exercise walks that she loves, and something as simple as getting in and out of a car became a daunting, painful task. The muscles around her knees felt sore, almost like a deep bruised muscle.

"I felt pretty discouraged," she says. "My husband kind of gently encouraged me to do something, but I didn't know what to do."

Medical visit: After consulting with friends who have similar knee pain, Seils went to an orthopedic doctor, where X-rays showed that one knee was bone-on-bone and the other one was getting there. The doctor recommended physical therapy and a friend recommended Core Physical Therapy in Fairhaven.

Improving: Seil's physical therapy focuses on stretching and strengthening her muscles. When first assessed, her knee had a 20 percent range of motion and she couldn't make one rotation on an exercise bike. Now, she rides the bike for 15 minutes without pain during her therapy sessions.

Moving regularly and stretching her leg muscles keeps them from knotting, which creates mobility problems.

"It does help to do the exercises every day," Seils says. "At this point I'll probably be doing them for the rest of my life just so I can be more flexible."

The pain in her knees isn't completely gone, but the exercises enable her to manage the pain and to keep volunteering at the theater and walking local trails, something she found impossible to do before therapy.

Next step: Seils plans to go back to the doctor for a reassessment. Knee surgery is the next step.

Seils isn't sure when it will be the right time to do that, but her physical therapy should ease her recovery from surgery because the muscles surrounding her knees will be stronger.

Advice: Seils recommends that anyone with joint problems find a physical therapist who works well for them, because therapy can greatly reduce the pain.

"I wish I would have moved forward with finding a physical therapist sooner," she says. "I'm still pretty cautious with making decisions, so that's probably not going to change."

Shelby Rowe is a freelance writer in Bellingham.

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