Stay Injury Free While Combating Parkinson’s Disease

I just posted this on our East Tennessee Support Group website and thought I would also post it here. This excellent article is from the PD Gladiators™ website and is posted here with their permission. PD Gladiators™ is a nonprofit organization devoted to combating Parkinson’s disease with vigorous exercise. They are based in Atlanta and provide over 40 weekly exercise classes for PD patients in the Atlanta area. For more information, please visit their website by clicking here.

Stay Injury Free While Combating Parkinson’s Disease

Maggie-CoslettPosting for Dr. Hackney this month is Maggie Coslett a doctoral candidate at Emory University School of Medicine’s DPT program. She is also working on a Dance Medicine Directed Study Internship, evaluating and providing appropriate therapeutic interventions for a variety of dance-specific injuries and conditions . Maggie has assisted with treatment sessions for Atlanta Ballet dancers and other pre-professional dancers.

Madeleine E. Hackney, PhD The Exercise Files blogWe all are now well aware of the research that highlights the benefits of exercise for Parkinson’s disease (PD). Many neurologists now are saying that exercise could even be considered as a type of medication for PD, and it should be taken regularly.1 Exercise has been shown to help slow the progression of Parkinson’s, prevent falls, improve balance and strength, result in better posture, and even assist your brain’s cognitive function.1 With all of these positive gains, who wouldn’t want to exercise? With so many great options out there now for PD individuals including boxing, tai chi, yoga, dance, Zumba, and movement classes that specifically target PD-specific concerns, there is no question that many of you will begin exercising for the first time in years. However when beginning a new exercise program, there is always the risk of becoming injured.

Having been a dancer for ten years, one of the most important lessons I learned was knowing how to listen to my own body. I knew when a particular movement did not feel right, and I knew when to not ignore the pain and get my body checked out. Now that I am fortunate enough to be working with the physical therapists who treat the Atlanta Ballet dancers through a directed study internship, I have noticed that the same mentality holds true with these dancers. We consistently see dancers that come in due to something not ‘feeling right’ during class or rehearsal, and they want to get it checked out sooner rather than later to prevent injury. They are dedicated and motivated to continue dancing, and they understand that sometimes this means that they have to take a break to allow their body to rest. This trend is true for all of the dancers we treat, from the professional dancers all the way down to the 10 year olds. They have this devotion and perseverance instilled in them to follow the necessary recovery steps in order to pursue their passion of dancing.

In order for all of you to continue to exercise long-term, I have compiled a few tips that I have learned along the way to help ensure that you can combat Parkinson’s while staying injury free!

Listen to your body!

No Pain No GainOne of the biggest causes of overuse injuries is not realizing when to listen to your body and stop exercising. Forget the old saying “no pain, no gain” and begin noticing if you are experiencing any type of pain that lasts more than a few days. You are expected to feel some soreness and pain after a hard workout or if you engage in a new type of exercise, as the muscles are beginning their break-down and repair process in order to grow stronger. However, if this pain lasts more than 72 hours, it is likely that you may have suffered an injury. If you attempt to “work through” the pain hoping it will ease off, it will most likely continue to get worse. Our muscles require some amount of time to be able to adjust and adapt to a new program, and if they do not receive enough of the necessary rest, they can fatigue and your body begins to compensate, leading to injury.

If you are taking one of the classes offered through PD Gladiators, you can always notify your instructor who will help guide you in the right direction. But if you are beginning a new workout session independently, I would highly recommend getting a trainer for the first month in order to have someone there to help you recognize what is “good” pain and what is “bad” pain. Sometimes you just need a little bit more rest in between exercise sessions to allow your body to recover, so listen to YOUR body and take some time off so that next time you can push it even harder at that exercise class!

Warm-up and Cool-down

Group exercise guysMost exercise programs incorporate warm-ups and cool-downs into their sessions, but if you start to realize that there is not enough for your specific needs, you can begin coming to class a little early in order to get your body primed for exercise! It has been proven that warm-up prior to physical activity significantly reduces the likelihood of an injury occurring.3 A proper warm-up allows your body temperature to increase, facilitates the blood flow to the muscles, steadily increases your heart rate, and this gives oxygen the opportunity to be sent out to the body more efficiently.3 A proper warm-up should also include dynamic stretching rather than static stretching. Dynamic stretching is a type of stretching that involves movement and is a very quick stretch to the muscle. This can include walking back and forth while drawing your knee to your chest, swinging your leg out in front and back, performing lunges, or arm circles.

Static stretching is the type of prolonged stretch that most of us think of with the word ‘stretch’. However this type of stretch is more beneficial to be performed after exercise during the cool-down. Static stretching allows the muscles to relax and helps re-align the muscle fibers to assist in preventing injury. This is any type of stretch where you hold the position for 10 seconds or longer. Skipping the cool-down will also result in waste products such as lactic acid to build up in the muscle and can cause additional muscle soreness later on.3

Exercise at YOUR Level

Every person is different and unique, and everyone who partakes in fitness classes is on a particular level. I know it is difficult to try and not compare yourself to other individuals in the class, but just know that everyone began from square one at some point, and you need to start off slow in the beginning. By individualizing your exercise session and listening to your body, you will help prevent injuries from occurring and you can exercise for a long time in the future!

Get Plenty of Rest

Enough sleep is necessary in order to help your body to repair itself. Every individual needs between 7 and 9 hours each night in order for your body to release its natural hormones and keep you energized and ready for that next exercise session.

Eat Healthy and Hydrate

Make sure you drink enough water during exercise to help prevent unnecessary fatigue and muscle cramps. Proper nutrition can also help keep your mind alert and your body feeling great so you can take it to the next level.


Repeating the same motions and movement patterns over and over again can lead to overuse injuries. By choosing other various activities and exercise classes, you can give your muscles a break and allow them to recover. Try combining dance or zumba classes with boxing classes to get a combination of upper and lower body strengthening!

Get Regular Physicals

Going to see your primary care provider regularly can help make sure you do not have any other health issues or overuse injuries occurring. Your doctor can make sure that everything looks great, and in the chance that there might be an injury or there are risk factors present, your doctor can then possibly make the decision to refer you to another healthcare profession such as physical therapy.

1. Cianci, H. (2012). Parkinson’s disease: fitness counts. National Parkinson Foundation.
2. Exercise: Injury Prevention and Self-Care. (2014, March). Retrieved February 24, 2016.
3. Woods, K., Bishop, P., & Jones, E. (2007). Warm-up and stretching in the prevention of muscular injury. Sports Medicine, 37(12), 1089-1099.

Dr. Madeleine E. Hackney, Ph.D, is a Research Health Scientist at the Atlanta VA Center for Visual and Neurocognitive Rehabilitation and an Assistant professor of Medicine in the division of General Medicine and Geriatrics at the Emory School of Medicine. She holds a Ph.D. in Movement Science from Washington University and a BFA in Dance from NYU, Tisch School of the Arts and has also been an American Council on Exercise certified personal trainer since 2000. Dr. Hackney’s extensive research interests include inquiry into challenging exercise programs–traditional exercise, Tai Chi and partnered tango classes–designed to improve physical function and quality of life in people with PD, older adults and those with serious mental illness. In 2014, she co-founded MDT Education Solutions, which has trained dozens of fitness and allied health professionals how to develop and lead safe, evidence-based exercise programs for people with PD at all stages of the disease, including almost all instructors in the PD Gladiators Metro Atlanta Fitness Network (including the YMCA of Metro Atlanta).

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