When shopping for a swim spa, questions one must ask include: What is the overall purpose of my swim spa? What do I hope to gain from my swim spa?For me, first and foremost, I wanted to find a drug-free way to manage chronic pain. I had always loved to swim and enjoyed a pool at a local spa for years. Then I developed a condition called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) otherwise known as Reflective Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). Considered the most painful condition known to man, my whole left leg was in irretraceable pain, cold and bluish in color. Water under 90 degrees caused the capillaries in my leg to shut down. Local pools were no longer an option. I had to use a cane and often had severe body spasms and I didn’t want to be seen in public. The medications I was given caused a weight gain of 45 lbs. in the span of 2 months. I could not tolerate any other form of exercise. Even the light touch of fabric caused pain. Because swimming uses all the muscles in the body and supports 90 percent of the body’s weight, the idea of a swim spa began to form after I had to go on disability and leave my career as a RN emergency planner. I knew I would require: 1) warm water, 2) enough room to swim, 3) privacy, 4) a way to exercise at my own pace, and 5) a way to lose some weight. Once I determined what I wanted from my swim spa, I concluded that I needed a high quality, functional spa within my price range. Ideally, I wanted to put it in a sun room but that did not fit within my budget. I once joked that I might as well put it in my garage because it was always too full of junk to park in it anyway! The idea took hold, and plans began to finish my garage while I searched for the right swim spa. I did several internet searches and read reviews. I visited local swim spa dealerships, but I could not find one that met my budget. I knew I wanted a cedar wood cabinet. I wanted high quality motors that were strong enough to swim against, benches with jets to relax with and room for the grandchildren to play. I wanted to talk with a real person if I had questions. Warrantee was also important. Some of the swim spa’s I looked at had fun features like Bluetooth stereos, electric retractable covers, customized jet placement etc. These extras were expensive luxuries that made no difference to my overall purpose. I had almost decided on a swim spa that cost over $22,000, but I would have to save for another year before I could get it and I did not feel comfortable with that price. And then I found Spa Manufacturers.I submitted a request for more information through the Spa Manufacturers web site. I soon got a call from Meg who was not only helpful; she was delightful to speak with. I told her of my chronic pain and what I needed from a swim spa. She came up with some ideas and together we came up with the perfect swim spa! I think she was surprised that I was going to put it into my garage, but she really listened to what I wanted. Other salespersons I had visited told me what I wanted. I liked Meg’s approach.Because I was buying from the manufacturer, I didn’t have to pay for a middle man and a show room. I didn’t have to pay for a sub-contractor to set up my spa. I was able to orchestrate the spa set up myself. I had an electrician hook up a 220 line in my garage to hardwire into the spa. Spa Manufacturers arranged the transport. I lined up a neighbor who had a fork lift to remove the spa from the transport and set it on metal pipes to roll into my garage. For this small effort I was able to save almost $10,000. They sent the chemicals that I needed to set up my swim spa chlorine free along with instructions. The cabinet is high quality and the jet motors are top of the line. It didn’t come with a fancy color booklet, but it did have set up diagrams and instructions. More importantly, when I had questions, I was able to speak with a knowledgeable representative who helped me. Following are some observations and recommendations when setting up your swim spa:Tips:1. Remove the “No Diving” stickers from the spa before filling it. They disintegrate when they get wet and clog your filters. 2. Keep the water at the right level. I found that if I let the pool get low on water, one of my jets doesn’t work as well. A Spa Manufacturers employee, Andersen, worked diligently with me for over a month to solve this problem. Safety:3. Put some bathtub safety strips on the steps before filling your swim spa.4. Buy one or two bathtub safety rails with suction cups. They are great to hold onto when you start your warm up exercises. 5. Use swim caps. Hair will clog your filters. I learned from sad experience that rubber swim caps will break or pull out your hair. I use a nylon wig cap beneath rubber swim caps now but I had to cut 6 inches from my hair before I learned that lesson.6. Definitely use water shoes. As careful as I am, I have still slipped and fallen a couple of times when getting into my swim spa. 7. The swim spa comes with a three step stair. We added an additional stair and hand rails to make it easier for me to get in and out.8. Buy rubber stair covers for the stairs. We got ours from Home Depot.Swimming:1. Swimming in a swim spa is NOT like swimming laps in a pool. It took practice to learn to swim against the jets and to adjust them accordingly. I like to use the jets with the air turned off to minimize the bubbles. I use goggles and a snorkel to swim sometimes. 2. I use an Aquajogger belt which allows me tread water and do additional exercises in my pool. Their barbells add resistance to your exercises. In fact, an Aquajogger belt can be used in a regular hot tub deep enough to tread water. Precautions:1. Take a break every 15 minutes. The jets run in 15 minutes increments, so between runs take a drink and make sure you are not overheated.2. Keep a clock with a second hand in view. Stop and take your pulse rate every 15 minutes. Keep your heartrate within the limits recommended by your physician. 3. Keep your electrolytes in balance. Because you are in water it is difficult to know how much you are sweating. I keep a homemade electrolyte replacement drink nearby when I am swimming. 4. Experts recommend swimming in water 82 degrees or under. Take extra care when swimming in water over 90 degrees. It is easy to become dehydrated or suffer from heat exhaustion.Spa Chemicals: I used a saline system initially. However, I found it difficult to keep the pH balanced with this system. I didn’t like having to constantly use test strips, add chemicals and working to keep the pH balanced. I found a product called Clarity Water Products. This product was cost effective and eliminates the need for constant pH testing. Clarity Water Products keeps my pool clean and clear without additional chemicals. My Progress: My first swim lasted a total of 2 minutes. I determined to swim every day and kept a log of my progress. It took time, but I was able to increase my swim incrementally until I could maintain a full hour of swimming. Training for my swim-a-thon keeps me swimming in one-hour increments two or three times a day. I’ve made some mistakes. Unwittingly, I’ve allowed myself to become dehydrated. I’ve become overheated and experienced muscle energy depletion. I could not find research on how to swim for extended periods of time in water over 90 degrees, so I’ve had to go with what little information I have found coupled with my own experiences. I have also learned about swimming and breathing cadence. I’ve lost 45 lbs. and gained muscle mass. My cardiovascular status has significantly improved. Once a borderline diabetic, my latest test show my blood sugar is within normal limits. I still have painful flairs, but overall I can swim even during flair ups without causing muscle strain in my limb. I’ve gained confidence and have taken control of the pain rather than let the pain control me.I use my swim spa for more than swimming. Remember dance aerobics from the 80’s? Dancing in the pool is easy and doesn’t strain muscles. Remember step aerobics from the 90’s. I use the steps in the pool for step aerobics. Most of all, I have FUN in my pool by adding in a little tai chi and even hula. I’ve found that I can meditate while treading water in my Aquajogger belt. This is the quiet time when I can review my life, my goals and blessings and spend time to talk with God. Perspective: When considering the purchase of a swim spa, consider the benefits vs. the expenses. My insurance paid over $50,000 for a spinal cord stimulator surgery, which did not work, but would not consider paying for a $12,000 swim spa. Chronic pain affects over 100 million Americans. Baby boomers are of an age where knee and hip replacement surgeries are commonplace. Pain medications are under scrutiny and are being taken away without alternatives for pain management. Aqua therapy should be considered for people with all kinds of chronic pain.