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Boxing Against Parkinson’s Disease

By |2024-05-10T08:13:18-04:00October 7th, 2022|Categories: Health A-Z, Physical Therapy|Tags: , , |

Terry Marcus enjoyed playing baseball in his younger days and now loves to toss a ball around with his grandson. But while America’s favorite pastime is near and dear to his heart, it’s boxing – among other therapies – that’s helping Terry in the fight of his life.

Terry, an 83-year-old Old Bridge resident, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2017. This incurable disorder of the central nervous system causes tremors, slow movement, stiffness, and loss of balance. A neurologist referred Terry to a physical therapy center in his neighborhood, but the program wasn’t Parkinson’s specific. Then Terry’s wife, Lois, heard about CentraState’s Rock Steady Boxing program. 

Punching Out Parkinson’s Disease

A collaboration between CentraState’s OceanFirst Rehabilitation Center and CentraState Fitness & Wellness Center, Rock Steady Boxing is designed to help those with Parkinson’s disease maintain or improve their strength, coordination, and balance. While each 90-minute session varies, the non-contact program typically includes stretching followed by workouts using a variety of equipment, including 100-pound heavy bags, speed bags, jump ropes, and weights. It also incorporates activities to strengthen eye muscles, vocal cords, and fine motor skills.

“Research shows that high-intensity, large-amplitude movements like those performed while boxing can help people with Parkinson’s disease,” explains Shannon Lenahan, PT, DPT, certified Rock Steady Boxing coach at CentraState.

Rock Steady Boxing recently celebrated its fifth anniversary, and Terry is one of 200 participants to date. While he found it challenging at first, he now feels stronger and steadier on his feet and has increased his endurance.

“This isn’t like the boxing you see on TV,” says Terry. “The instructors explain how to move your feet and punch the bag, and they make sure you don’t overdo it.”

A Specialized, Multidisciplinary Approach

Through Rock Steady Boxing, Terry was referred to the Charles Kaempffer Parkinson’s Program, part of CentraState’s Movement Disorders Program. Overseen by neurologist Jia Zhen Cheng, MD, the Movement Disorders Program is designed to detect neurodegenerative issues early, when treatment is most effective.

In collaboration with CentraState’s skilled therapists and with insight from various medical specialties, the Charles Kaempffer Parkinson’s Program is tailored to the complex needs of those with Parkinson’s disease or atypical parkinsonism. After a thorough clinical evaluation by Dr. Cheng, a treatment plan is developed with each patient. Treatment can include medication, referrals to subspecialists for advanced care, and physical, occupational, or speech therapy.

“Unfortunately, we can’t stop the progression of Parkinson’s, but with early intervention, we can reduce its symptoms and improve quality of life,” says Dr. Cheng.

To improve Terry’s core balance and reduce stiffness and hand tremors, Dr. Cheng suggested that he add traditional physical therapy to his Rock Steady Boxing routine. She also recommended speech therapy to improve his tone of voice and prevent choking, a common symptom of Parkinson’s disease.

Since beginning his coordinated care at CentraState in 2020, Terry has improved his flexibility and ability to walk. In addition to regular appointments with Dr. Cheng, he’s now working with speech therapist Danielle DaCunha, MS-CCC-SLP, to decrease his choking risk by learning to take smaller bites and chew more thoroughly. 

Caregiver Support Is Key

Beyond addressing all components of a disability, the Movement Disorders Program fosters communication and collaboration among physicians, therapists, patients, and their caregivers – which can make a difference for patients and family members alike.

“I now know how to help and encourage Terry when he has a setback at home,” Lois explains. “The therapists make it easier for caregivers.”

Having a strong support system at home and while at therapy helps keep Parkinson’s patients actively engaged in their progress. It’s also fun for Lois, who has donned boxing gloves and joined Terry at the speed bag a few times.

“Motivation and movement are very important,” adds Dr. Cheng. “Staying active like Terry is crucial for patients with Parkinson’s or similar disorders.”

For more information on the Movement Disorders Program at CentraState, visit or call 866-CENTRA7 (866-236-8727).

Community Support

CentraState Healthcare Foundation recently received generous donations from the Landy family and the family of Charles Kaempffer in support of the Movement Disorder Program. CentraState has named the Charles Kaempffer Parkinson’s Program in his honor.

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