Joe Holden isn’t a quitter. After six spine surgeries and countless hours of traditional physical therapy in eight years, the Manalapan resident still needed a wheelchair to get around. For Joe, that wasn’t living.
Joe suffers from spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal that puts pressure on the spinal cord and the nerves within the spine. The condition can cause pain, numbness, and muscle weakness. Despite years of painful surgeries and therapy, Joe continued to lose his ability to walk, until a year ago when he was referred for physical therapy at CentraState’s OceanFirst Rehabilitation Center. At that point, Joe began one-on-one aquatic therapy with physical therapist assistant Jon Viloria, under the direction of a CentraState physical therapist.
“Your body has muscles to stabilize and hold it upright and muscles that enable it to move,” explains Jon. “We focused Joe’s therapy program on the specific muscle groups that were challenging him.”
By leveraging the water’s buoyancy, Joe was able to focus first on the muscles used to move. Because he developed a limp, goals of therapy included improving his posture and balance, and retraining the muscles used when walking. After three months of aquatic therapy, Joe graduated to land-based physical therapy to work his body’s stabilizing muscles as well as his movement muscles.
Moving On to the Next Phase
The intense, second phase of therapy included a variety of unconventional exercises. The “magic carpet ride” exercise was used to strengthen Joe’s legs. During this exercise, another therapist sat on a towel with a rope tied around his waist while Joe held the rope and pulled him across the gym. Performing the exercise properly required him to use each leg equally while walking tall and not hunched. Because Joe was afraid of falling and not being able to get up, another exercise concentrated on helping him learn the sequence of movements to get up safely on his own.
“Joe may not be an athlete, but we treated him like one so he could regain his confidence and mobility,” explains Jon.
When Joe began therapy, he was tired, weak, and heavily reliant on a wheelchair. After a few weeks of therapy, he progressed to using a walker. No longer in therapy, he now uses a cane most days.
“Jon was tough on me, but now I’m standing straighter, walking taller, and feeling stronger with a lot less pain,” Joe says. “Friends say I look like a different person—and I feel like one, too.”