Parkinson’s Patients Seeing Improvements Through Boxing Therapy

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HAMPTON TOWNSHIP (KDKA) – There may be a new treatment for people with Parkinson’s disease and it involves the gym.

Parkinson’s is a chronic, progressive condition. Patients have very low dopamine levels, because the cells in their brain that make that particular chemical start to die off. Dopamine works as a neurotransmitter, a type of chemical which helps send signals from the brain to other nerve cells.

In Parkinson’s patients, as the dopamine-generating cells die, symptoms of the disease start to appear. They include tremors, stiffness, slowness, and stooped posture. Experts still aren’t sure why the cell die, but they’re working to figure it out and find the best treatment for patients.

Cindy Goettman was diagnosed Parkinson’s eight years ago. She’s trying out a new, unorthodox treatment: boxing.

“It has improved my stability, my balance, my gait. It’s made a huge difference in my attitude, too,” says Goetman.

Rich Mushinsky runs Fit 4 Boxing in Hampton Township. One of his clients with Parkinson’s disease encouraged him to start a treatment program. He got certified in Indianapolis, and started the specialized boxing program.

Everyone who wants to try the program is evaluated before they start.

“We started with three people, and we have over 200 who have been evaluated,” says Mushinsky. “Probably over 120… come every week… We call them fighters.”

The participants are ranked on a scale from one to four.

“One and two being they’re pretty well off,” says Mushinsky. “They can drive in, they can pretty much live on their own… Threes or fours, not so good. Fours are in wheelchairs. They need caregivers.”

Throughout the week, the fighters take a class based on their ranking.

Then, on Thursdays, they take a combined class. The hour-long combined class begins with introductions and an ice-breaker. Because Parkinson’s patients can sometimes develop softer voices, the ice-breaker activities also work like speech therapy.

“The patients have to speak at a volume that other patients can understand,” says Dr. Susan Baser, a Parkinson’s disease specialist at Allegheny General Hospital. “A lot of these folks, when they’re home, they don’t talk as much. They quit answering the phone, they quite socializing, and everybody tends to speak for them. So this is their opportunity to really do something conversational, at a conversational level.”

Once the ice-breaker is over, there are announcements and a medical update on the group members. Then, some stretching and a warm-up, and actual boxing. The group listens to a lot of upbeat music from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.

Volunteers help the group to make sure everyone stays safe.

Friends and family say the boxing classes have made a big difference for their loved ones.

“Between the physical aspects of what they’ve done, plus the mental aspects of having friendship and having people rooting you on, that’s made a difference. You see people who are smiling more, and just having a good time,” says Don Goncar, of Pittsburgh.

Others report marked progress.

“Her gait, her energy levels, her range of motion, everything has improved,” says Samantha Goettman, of Indiana. “It’s only been a year, so I’m interested to see [her progress] as she continues.”

The American Academy of Neurology is opposed to the sport of boxing, but is considering supporting boxing as therapy for Parkinson’s patients.

To join the class at Fit 4 Boxing in Hampton Township, patients need a permission slip from their doctor. Individual classes are $15; a monthly membership is $90.

For more information, you can visit the gym’s website here:

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