Exercise for Optimizing Chronic Neurological Conditions

Celebs-With-Parkinsons-Intro-RM-pg-fullBy James Lyon, student physical therapist

Are you or a loved one suffering from a neurological condition that affects energy levels, strength, balance, or functioning throughout the day, such as Parkinson’s Disease or Multiple Sclerosis? A physical therapist is trained to assess strength and limitations, as well as to tailor routines and activities to assist in returning you to the activities you love doing.

While exercise is beneficial for anyone and everyone, regular participation in physical activity is especially important for people living with neurological conditions. For conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease that impact cognitive function, regular physical activity has been proven to slow cognitive decline. With conditions that affect balance such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and stroke, exercise can help to improve stability to reduce the risk of falls. For any conditions that impact muscle strength, physical activity assists in slowing, and even reversing muscular atrophy. Regular cardiovascular exercise can improve endurance and activity tolerance to reverse the effects of neurological conditions that impact energy levels. Physical activity is also widely known to improve emotional state, as mood is often affected by these conditions, as well.

Chicago and its suburbs offer many community-based resources in variety of styles to keep those with a chronic neurological condition moving.  After consulting with a physical therapist to determine the right plan for you, identify what type of exercise activity you want to try first!

Chicago – Downtown

CrossTown Fitness – 1031 W. Madison (also available in Roscoe Village and Lakeview)
Personal training classes offering adaptive sessions for people living with diagnoses such as Parkinson’s, SCI, stroke, and multiple sclerosis

Hubbard Street Dance – 1147 Jackson
The oldest Parkinson’s dance program in the midwest, which helps to slow disease progression through dance techniques.

Movement Revolution – 227 E. Ontario (+ suburban locations)
Group classes built to empower and inspire participants to challenge themselves and defy stereotypes associated with neurological conditions.

  • Rock Steady Boxing: For Parkinson’s and Parkinsonian conditions
  • Vim and Vigor: Modified spin cycle class for patients with, Parkinson’s, SCI, stroke, MS, fall risk, and other neurological conditions
  • Neuro Fight Club: Strength and conditioning boxing, for same populations as vim & vigor
  • Spin for Parkinson’s (also welcomes stroke, SCI, MS, fall risk, Alzheimers, and elderly)

Northwestern Memorial Hospital – 251 E. Huron Street
Exercise classes and support groups for people living with Parkinson’s disease

Shirley Ryan Ability Lab – 541 N. Fairbanks
Offering adaptive sports and fitness programs to suit people with physical/neurological disabilities.

  • Sport Programs:
    Archery, Boccia, Cycling/racing, Golf, Rock Climbing, Sailing
  • Fitness Programs:
    Treadmill Training, Boxing, Zumba, Flex-Ability, MaZi Cardio, Nordic Walk, Seated Bootcamp, Seated Yoga, Water Aerobics, Tai Chi
  • Parkinson’s-specific Classes: Amplitude-Based Training, Integrated Exercises for Parkinson’s, PWR! Circuit

Chicago – South

Roots of Integrity Holistic Fitness and Wellness – 1006 S. Michigan Ave
Gentle Pilates with an emphasis for neurological conditions, designed to improve posture, balance, and strength.

South Side YMCA of Metro Chicago – 6330 S. Stony Island
Offers water aerobics classes geared for individuals with multiple sclerosis and other conditions which may limit mobility.

Chicago – Northwest

JCC Chicago – 3303 W. Touhy Avenue
This program was founded with the Northwestern University Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center to improve the lives of people with Parkinson’s through exercise, support, education, and medical collaboration.


Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital – Barrington
Advocate offers a variety of exercise classes welcome to all people, as well a specialized aquatics class for people with multiple sclerosis.

Chicago Dance Therapy – Northfield
Offering dance classes targeted to people with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s as a method of alternative psychotherapy.

Dance For Parkinson’s Disease – Various Locations
Specialized dance classes of various styles designed to address symptom-specific aspects of Parkinson’s such as balance, cognition, motor skill, depression, and physical confidence.

  • Downer’s Grove, Good Samaritan Hospital
  • Lake Forest, Northwestern Hospital
  • Glenview, Belmont Village Senior Living
  • Urbana-Champaign, Kranner Center for the Performing Arts

Glenview Park District – Glenview
Exercise classes suited for Parkinson’s patients that incorporates cardio, balance training, and PWR (Parkinson’s Wellness Recovery).

Lieberman Center for Health and Rehabilitation – Skokie
Offering specialized exercises programs for Parkinson’s patients to decrease symptoms of the disease, increase strength, and improve energy levels and daily function.

  • Parkinson’s on the Move
  • Seated Dance and Movement
  • Seated Tai Chi

NeuroBalance Center – Barrington
Individual and group fitness classes designed for people with neurological and autoimmune conditions that affect mobility, balance, strength, gait, coordination, and speech.

  • FitMS: Seated class incorporating Tai Chi, Yoga, Pilates, and Balance Ball exercises for people with multiple sclerosis and other similar movement disorders
  • FitPD: Hour long class for patients with Parkinson’s and other movement disorders

Northwestern Medicine, Lake Forest Health and Fitness Center – Lake Forest
Lake Forest branch of the Northwestern hospital system that offers low- to moderate-intensity exercises classes for people with Parkinson’s and fibromyalgia.

  • Dance for Parkinson’s
  • Functional Fitness
  • Pedal for Parkinson’s
  • Pilates for Parkinson’s
  • Rock Steady Boxing
  • Strength and Balance
  • TRX for Parkinson’s
  • Yoga for Parkinson’s
  • Fibromyalgia: Warm water therapy pool class specifically designed for people with fibromyalgia

The Wellness Pros – Various Locations
The Wellness Pros mission is to provide quality fitness services for people with disabilities including, but not limited to, Alzheimer’s, adult CP, and wheelchair bound citizens. They are a not-for-profit company that serves Chicago and the surrounding suburbs.

  • Strength training and general conditioning
  • Yoga
  • Drums
  • Therapeutic dance and creative movements
  • Senior fitness

Yoga Heals Us – Various Locations
Private and group yoga classes of various styles, with certified instructors in TAYMS: Therapeutic Adaptive Yoga for Multiple Sclerosis. Classes are offered all around the Chicago area and suburbs.

Contact PhysioPartners to schedule an appointment and determine the right program for you!




Ask a Physical Therapist To Screen Your Movements Before You Start Exercising This Spring

annual_musculoskeletal_examLet’s talk about the last time you—or someone close to you—interviewed for a new job.
Chances are that the first step was a phone screen with your potential employer, and when you passed that portion of the process with flying colors, you were then invited for an in-person interview. At that stage, the employer probably asked you to answer a series of questions and to demonstrate your skills through a test or two. The process is set up in a way that narrows down the options until the most suitable candidate is found. Makes sense, right?
Just as job recruiters screen applicants to find the best fit for an open position, your PT will ask you to perform a series of exercises so that she can observe and understand your body mechanics to uncover any issues or limitations. Used in combination with a full evaluation and assessment, these so-called movement screens are just one tool in identifying the most appropriate treatment or prevention program for you. But unlike that test you may have taken during a job interview, the screen is not testing your skills or abilities, it’s simply a way of identifying how your body functions during a variety of movements.
Now that spring is in full swing, it’s the perfect time of year to make an appointment with your physical therapist for a movement screen. The warmer weather means more time spent outdoors participating in sports and other recreational activities that may be physically demanding. A PT checkup that includes a movement screen will ensure that you’re physically able to engage in popular spring and summer adventures, whether it’s exploring in the woods, tending to your garden, or swimming at your family’s lake house.

Physical therapists perform movement screens for a variety of reasons, including:
• To identify areas of strength and weakness
• To uncover issues or rule them out
• To determine readiness to begin a safe exercise program
• To improve sport performance (for both novice and elite athletes)

A movement screen is something that you can have done whether you have a nagging injury or are simply ready to kickstart your activity level after a long hiatus. Gaining an understanding of how your body performs during basic exercises such as squats and lunges helps your physical therapist ensure that you can safely jump on a bike or into a pool this summer. And just like an employer screens candidates to identify the one individual who is likely to thrive on the job for many years to come, a movement screen can help you develop a lasting and fulfilling relationship with the activities you enjoy most.

Ready to try a self-screen to confirm when to see a physical therapist?  Check out the Fit Factor, a self movement screening tool on our website.

Request an Appointment

“Body, Heal Thyself!” How To Achieve Better Health Through Good Sleep Habits

642x361_The_Science_of_SleepBy Jennifer Nelson, PT, DPT, DscPT

How do you wind down from a stressful day at work?  Even if a good workout is your preferred method, most people don’t exercise right before bedtime.  Instead, up to 90% of Americans use some sort of electronic device at least a few nights of the week within 1 hour of going to bed.  Whether it is your smart phone, laptop, TV, or settling in with an e-reader to wind down before bed, recent research is suggesting that use of those items may prolong the amount of time it takes you to fall asleep.  While I love my Kindle and the convenience it provides, I have never thought about the effect it may be having on my natural sleep cycle.

The importance of a good night’s sleep cannot be understated.  Beyond setting your energy level for the next day, quality sleep allows your body time to heal itself and rejuvenate.  Whether bumps and bruises, sore muscles, or a more serious injury, your body releases hormones while you sleep that can enhance tissue growth and healing.  You also make more white blood cells as you sleep that help you fight off bacteria or viruses.  These and many other benefits may be enjoyed with high quality and quantity sleep, but the challenge is finding enough time to go to bed on time or being able to fall asleep promptly after you do decide to shut down for the night.  Research suggests that the ability to fall asleep quickly is impacted by using electronics before bed.

The reason my Kindle may keep me up longer after reading it is simple, but not as obvious as you may think.  The screens from these devices emit blue light, which stimulates receptors in your eyes and research has shown that will suppress the level of Melatonin produced in your brain.  Melatonin levels help regulate your normal sleep/wake cycle (called the Circadian Rhythm) and should rise as you reach the end of the day.  Naturally, as the sun sets, the amount of blue light taken in by the body should decrease, but normal screens prolong your exposure to it and could, in turn, add to your difficulty of falling asleep.

So, what can you do about it?  Multiple apps have been developed to track the time of day for your device and adjust the amount of blue light emitted, based on the natural rise and set of the sun.  Software like F.lux and Twilight can be used on iOS or Android devices, as well as downloaded onto your PC.  They can be turned on/off as needed and will automatically adjust your device based on location and time of year as the sun sets and your exposure to natural blue light decreases.  While it may take a little while to get used to a reddish colored screen, the screen will be easier on the eyes and can cut down on glare at night without altering levels of Melatonin as much.  The best part is both of these apps are free!  Newer versions of the Kindle Fire and iPads have these features auto-loaded, called “Blue Shade” and “Night Shift” respectively.

Use these quick tips help you get more sleep and allow your body to heal or recover faster!  Physical therapists can also provide pointers on improving your sleep posture so you may sleep more soundly and wake up with fewer aches and pains!

Jennifer Nelson, PT, DPT, DscPT, is a physical therapist at PhysioPartners.  She is accepting new patients in our Loop office and may be reached at (773) 665-9950.








Ready for Summer?

imagesBy Stephanie Penny, PT, DPT

With all the snow and cold temperatures, spring has snuck up on us, but get ready — summer and all your favorite outdoor activities are around the corner!  The following tips can help you and your body be prepared.

Sticking to an Exercise Routine

  • Schedule exercise as an appointment, writing to down or making an appointment in your calendar.
  • Never go more than two days without exercise.
  • Mix up your workouts! Try a new class or personal training.

Healthy Eating

  • Shop the perimeter of the store, where most of the fresh food is located, and stay away from the processed foods in the center of the store.
  • Track what you eat by writing it down or using a fitness app.
  • Drink lots of water.  Read more about the benefits of adequate hydration.
  • Cook at home, avoiding the hidden calories of eating out.  Even salads at restaurants are calorie and fat laden.

Prevent Knee Injuries When Starting a New Fitness Routine

Stretching and strengthening your hips can go a long way in preventing knee injuries.

  • Stretching
    • Gluteal Stretch:  Bring your knee towards your opposite shoulder.  Hold 30 seconds and repeat twice on each side.
    • Hamstring Stretch:  With a towel around your foot, lift your leg to stretch the back of the thigh.  Hold 30 seconds and repeat twice on each side.
  • Strengthening
    • Hip Abduction:  In sidelying, keep your hips stacked as you lift and lower your leg.  Repeat 10x, 2 sets on each side.

The team at PhysioPartners is here to help you Achieve Freedom Through Movement.  Consult with our physical therapists, personal trainers or Pilates instructors to start your summer fitness routine right!

Stephanie Penny, PT, DPT, is a board-certified clinical specialist in orthopedic physical therapy and sees patients in our Lakeview location.




Is Your Smart Phone Aging Your Spine?

neckChances are that you probably haven’t given much thought to how your neck and back are faring in the era of the smart phone, but studies show that you most certainly should. It’s practically a reflex these days to pull out our smart phones when we’re standing in line, sitting at the airport or riding the subway. And while it’s great that we rarely need to venture beyond our pockets for entertainment, our bodies are beginning to retaliate—and mourn the pre-texting days.

So, what exactly are these contemporary conveniences doing to our bodies? A surgeon-led study published in Surgical Technology International assessed what impact surgeons’ head and neck posture during surgery—a posture similar to that of smart-phone texters—has on their cervical spines. With each degree that our heads flex forward (as we stare at a screen below eye level), the strain on our spines dramatically increases. When an adult head (that weighs 10 to 12 pounds in the neutral position) tilts forward at 30 degrees, the weight seen by the spine climbs to a staggering 40 pounds, according to
the study.

How pervasive of a problem is this? According to the study, the average person spends 14 to 28 hours each week with their heads tilted over a laptop, smart phone or similar device. Over the course of a year, that adds up to 700 to 1400 hours of strain and stress on our spines. As a result, the number of people dealing with headaches, achy necks and shoulders and other associated pain has skyrocketed.

Trained to address postural changes over the lifespan, physical therapists are well-versed in treating this modern-day phenomenon, widely known as “text neck.”
Over time, this type of poor posture can have a cumulative effect, leading to spine degeneration, pinched nerves and muscle strains. Scheduling an appointment with a physical therapist can address these issues and help people learn how to interact with their devices without harming their spines. The physical therapist also will prescribe an at-home program that includes strategies and exercises to focus on preserving the spine and preventing long-term damage.

Exercise is an important part of taking care of our spines as we age, but what we do when we’re not in motion matters, too. So next time you pick up your smart phone or curl up with your e-reader, do a quick check of your head and neck posture. Your body will thank you for years to come.

How Actively Will You Age?

imagesA 2010 study suggests that the decline in fitness we typically attribute to advancing age are largely caused by living sedentary lifestyles—which are on the rise due to the prominence of desk jobs in the workplace and activity-limiting personal technologies, including smart phones and voice-activated remote controls in the home. Still, this runs contrary to the widely held belief that any declines in our physical abilities are caused solely by biological aging. Do we really have control over how active we’ll be in our “golden years”?

In a word, absolutely. The study—which examined 900,000 running times of marathon and half-marathon participants aged 20 to 79—found no significant age-related performance declines in those younger than 55 years old, and only moderate declines among the older cohorts. In fact, more than one-quarter of runners aged 65 to 69 were faster than half of the runners aged 20 to 54.

And for those thinking that these runners must have been lifelong enthusiasts of the sport, the study revealed that 25% of runners aged 50 to 69 were relative newcomers—and had started marathon training within the previous 5 years. The researchers concluded that even at an advanced age, people in the “non-athlete” category who engage in regular training can reach high performance levels.

If this revelation is intriguing, then perhaps it’s time for you to get moving! If you are not currently active, then you likely have questions and concerns about where to start. And if you regularly engage in physical activities, then you have probably set goals that you would like to achieve. Either way, there is no shortage of tools and resources to help you live a more active lifestyle, but one reliable place to start is with your physical therapist.

The benefits of beginning any fitness regimen with a physical therapist consultation are many: PTs are trained to assess your abilities and limitations, consider your health concerns, demonstrate safe exercises and build a plan to increase strength, function and mobility. Whatever your passion is, your physical therapist will help you be fit and injury-free so you may enjoy life’s many pursuits.

When is the Best Time to See Your Physical Therapist?

annual_musculoskeletal_examYou probably already know to make an appointment with a physical therapist when you sprain your ankle or develop tennis elbow. But what if you’ve felt a slight twinge in your knee during your daily walk or noticed that your posture has changed since you accepted a job that requires sitting for eight or more hours a day? Or maybe you’ve been thinking about joining a gym to get in shape.

Are these reasons to see a physical therapist? Yes!

Each of these scenarios has the potential for injury. Physical therapists are experts in injury prevention and are trained to spot small problems before they become big problems—and often before you know that there’s a problem at all. Physical therapists evaluate, screen and assess patients using a variety of tools to detect mobility limitations and muscle imbalances that, if left untreated, may leave you more prone to serious injuries down the road.

When caught early, injuries—or the very beginning signs of an injury—are easier to treat and the recovery period is shorter, less expensive and less of a burden on everyday life. Knowing what to look out for—and when to see a healthcare professional—is often not as obvious as it sounds. Some signs and symptoms aren’t recognized as indicators of an injury while others may be brushed off as nothing serious. Here are a few things to look out for:

• Joint pain
• Tenderness
• Swelling
• Reduced range of motion
• Weakness
• Numbness or tingling
• Balance issues

If you’re experiencing any of these signs or symptoms, schedule an appointment with a physical therapist to rule out a potential problem or to nip one in the bud before it becomes more serious. Based on background, training and experience, physical therapists understand how a patient’s risk for specific types of injuries can increase based on participation in certain sports and recreational activities, as
well as identify physical strains due to on-the-job and household demands.

An individualized exercise program designed to strengthen your muscles, improve flexibility and optimize your physical ability can help correct and prevent issues that could turn into injuries in the future.  For example, a teenage field hockey player can learn exercises to perform regularly to lower her risk of tearing her ACL. Your physical therapist can design an injury prevention exercise program to suit your specific needs and ensure your healthy participation in sports, recreational activities and everyday life.

When is the best time to see your physical therapist?  Sooner is nearly always better than later!