Beautiful Balboa Island walks help with the effects of Parkinson’s Disease 

One of the benefits of living in Southern California is the great outdoor options for an active lifestyle. Nowhere is there a more picturesque setting for a walk than Balboa Island. For Jean, 77, her walks are not just for pleasure, but a vital part of her battle against the rigidity and stiffness that is associated with Parkinson’s Disease.

This debilitating neurological condition is a chronic and progressive movement disorder that affects approximately one million Americans. For the past 15 years Michael J. Fox has been the pubic face of this illness that manifests in symptoms that include tremors, rigidity, slowness of movement and balance issues. While newer medications are able to lessen the effects of this disease, research is showing the importance of implementing a medically-supervised therapy program as soon as possible.

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Jean, like many patients with this condition, was suffering from leg stiffness for nearly 10 years before being diagnosed in the fall of 2012. Suffering from a torn meniscus she experienced pain in her left knee and was unable to reduce the stiffness with stretching. Unsteady on her feet, she had taken a few falls. At the suggestion of her daughter, Michael McKindley of Progressive Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation was recommended to her.

One of the first physical therapists in California to be certified in the LSVT BIG program for Parkinson’s Disease, Michael had the skills and knowledge to address her specific issues. Adapted from the principles behind the successful Lee Silverman Voice Treatment, LSVT BIG therapy includes repetitive, exaggerated movements that increase dopamine production in the brain and recalibrate muscle function. This helps to counteract the slow movement—bradykinesia—that is one of the main motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

“Jean should be commended on seeking therapy early on with her disease,” said Michael McKindley, DPT. “Most people don’t realize how important it is to get started as soon as possible with specialized care. This can be an important factor in helping maintain an active lifestyle. Her falling was very concerning to both of us. Addressing the balance issues along with providing her with techniques to help her in her every day activities were the primary goal we wanted to achieve which would also help restore her confidence.”

Jean’s therapy had a multi-pronged approach. To deal with her knee pain, manual soft tissue manipulation was used, along with strengthening exercises which would help increase her range of motion. To combat the deficiencies caused by Parkinson’s she was taught very specific exercises to improve her balance and gait and was provided with a home exercise program.

Even with medications early physical therapy makes a difference for quality of life 

Specialized exercise programs made all the difference. I never realized how important they were.

“The techniques Michael taught me made such a difference in my life,” Jean said. “I knew exercise and activity were important, but I didn’t realize to what extent. I learned how to get up when sitting on a chair and how to walk differently. I have a program for the gym to build up strength and work on my balance, which has made me more steady on my feet.”

When Jean started therapy she had a bent over posture and a fast, but shuffling gait. Due to her walking mechanics and her posture she would fatigue easily and would feel stiffness in her hips and lumbar spine.

“We initially addressed her posture and walking mechanics,” McKindley added. “We improved her stride length and reduced the amount of effort it took her to walk. She learned quickly and we started progressing her home walking program. Over a few weeks, she was able to walk her old distances at a comfortable and safe pace. We started a comprehensive stretching and strengthening program incorporating LSVT BIG exercises and more complex balance activities. She continued to excel. She had a few bumps along the way with a fall and some soreness, but we were able to quickly modify her program to address the issues and keep her progressing.”

“I am much more aware now of my movements and have the confidence that I won’t fall when walking,” Jean added. “The hardest part is not taking a day off, even if I feel good. Like everyone else facing a challenge in life, I put one foot in front of the other and just keep moving forward. Michael has made such a positive difference in my life and I am so thankful for having him as my physical therapist.”

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