OT Students Join Fight Against Parkinson’s by Teaching Boxing

By Colby Gallagher

Published on June 18, 2019

Helping to teach a boxing class isn’t what you think of when occupational therapy comes to mind, but students in their second professional year of USciences Doctor of Occupational Therapy program are learning about the benefits of the sport. Students participated in weekly coaching at Rock Steady Boxing as part of their fieldwork.

Throughout the spring semester, students traveled to Dynamic NeuroFit in Devon, PA every Thursday to assist Jennifer Brown, DPT with Rock Steady Boxing classes.

“It’s an international program, there’s over 700 affiliates around the world working with Parkinson’s and Parkinson’s Plus diagnoses,” said Dr. Brown, who owns the center and became certified to teach the classes in April of 2018.

As a physical therapist, Dr. Brown said partnering with USciences’ Department of Occupational Therapy brought a different area of expertise in to the center.

“A big part about being an occupational therapist is just making sure that that person is not only happy, but they’re doing things that are meaningful to them,” said Alisha Mickle DrOT’20. “So things like this that you can encourage them of how this can help them and make a better life for themselves, it’s just constantly making an increased quality of life.”

OT students helping teach a session at Rock Steady BoxingEach hour-long session is broken into stations that focus on combining physical movement with cognitive learning.

Bob Langran has been coming since the start of the classes and said that combination is what combats the repetitiveness of your average jabs, punches and kicks.

“That’s a good thing, that’s kind of fun,” said Langran, who admitted he was apprehensive to try boxing. “You get to know the other people who are undergoing therapy as well.”

Each boxer was paired with an OT student who guided them through the different exercises. At one station, a student would call out a simple math equation in front of a punching bag lined with numbers. The boxer would then punch the correct number in response to the question.

A big part about being an occupational therapist is just making sure that that person is not only happy, but they’re doing things that are meaningful to them

-- Alisha Mickle DrOT'20

“Boxing helps to work on hand-eye coordination, big movements, so it fights through different parts of the Parkison’s like Bradykinesia, a slowness of the movement,” said Dr. Brown. “When you’re moving big and you have to take that big punch, it forces you out of these little movements that you might be stuck in.”

As the granddaughter of someone with Parkinson’s, Mickle said she was even more interested in learning an additional form of treatment that could potentially help.

“Hearing success stories is definitely one of the reasons why I wanted to become an OT,” said Mickle. “It’s just exciting to hear that things like this are available for those kinds of people.”

The progress of Rock Steady clients is proof that the classes are another tool in the fight against Parkinson’s.

“I think it’s helped my movement, especially some of the little ones like writing and so on,” said Langran. “The big ones, I still have trouble with the legs, but nothing has gone downhill.”

OT students called the experience a positive one that will help them decide what area they want to specialize in when they graduate.

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