Recently we had the opportunity to catch up with Sarah King, an amazing human and physical therapist who specializes in working with folks with Parkinson’s Disease.
Frustrated by the profit-generating model of the healthcare industry’s failure to provide comprehensive wellness care, she created her own solution in the form of Invigorate PT and Wellness--a concierge physical therapy and wellness coaching program for clients with Parkinson’s Disease.
Dedicated to empowering others through movement, Sarah is one of our heroes and will be yours, too, once you read what she has to say.
Why did you decide to get into the business of movement?
I’ve always been a busy-bee and movement was really second nature in my house growing up. A majority of my memories were exploring the outdoors, getting dirty, or playing sports so I grew up very much appreciating how much the body was capable of. I couldn’t imagine what my life would be like if I couldn’t move freely, so I think that’s what inspired me to go into a profession that protected that ability and restored it for others. I was on the pre-med track but re-routed towards physical therapy because I recognized most physicians don’t get a chance to spend the quality time with patients that’s really required to help them improve their health and physicality.
What type of training do you specialize in, and what’s the demographic of your clients?
I fell in love with the Parkinson’s tribe almost immediately, which is why I decided to specialize in Parkinson’s rehabilitation when I founded Invigorate in 2014. Since Parkinson’s (mistakenly) gets such a bad reputation and grim prognosis, when I saw my first Parkinson’s client return to her daily walks, activities around the house she loved like cooking, and abolished her back and shoulder pain within weeks of exercising with me, I was hooked. As I set off studying more about Parkinson’s, and saw how powerful exercise is at literally giving a client a second chance at life, I knew I had to pursue it.
Now my practice is 100% specialized in helping people diagnosed with Parkinson’s build their Parkinson’s Plan, which is all centered around how to maximize, protect, and supplement their deficit of dopamine, which is an important neurotransmitter in their brain. Exercise is a huge component of someone’s Plan. In fact, it’s arguably more important than taking their medication when it comes to managing their symptoms over time… hence the reason the phrase “exercise as medicine” is very common in the Parkinson’s world.
That’s so incredible. When did you start using Primal 7 with your clients?
I started using Primal 7 about a year ago. I see all my clients in their home and bring my equipment with me, so my selection is really limited. I also need something that can adapt to people at all levels since some of my clients are wheelchair bound and others are still running 5Ks regularly. I thought the Primal 7 looked diverse, but as I started using it I realized just how much variety it offered.
Do you use it more with individuals or groups?
Most of my work with clients is 1-on-1 in their home and the Primal usually helps me do things that would typically require an extra set of hands. I’ve taught one 6-week Primal 7 Parkinson’s class for Austin’s local non-profit, Power for Parkinson’s, and it was an incredible experience! We had people squatting, stepping, lunging, twisting, and pushing themselves and just smiling the entire time. I loved every minute of it.
There are few things better than witnessing others become empowered through movement. Who do you see benefitting the most from Primal 7? And what’s your favorite success story?
My clients who are typically very restricted physically, either they’re in a wheelchair or they’re very limited by freezing, benefit tremendously psychologically. These clients haven’t stood up or walked without the help of another person for months (or years!) and when you get them using the Primal to the point where they’re moving successfully on their own accord, you can really see them light up from the inside out.
One of my clients, Jeanne, has been wheelchair-bound for quite a while now. Before the Primal, we were restricted mostly to bed exercises because she wasn’t able to sit or stand unsupported. Even with the caregiver and I working together to do standing exercises, we couldn’t guarantee her safety and she was pretty fearful of falling so we were very, very limited. Once I introduced the Primal, we had her doing rows in her wheelchair, mini sit-ups with the band for support, and recently we’ve progressed into doing multiple sets of standing squats with the band and rings! It may seem like a small feat to many people, but for someone who felt trapped in her wheelchair or bed, this has really opened her world up. She regularly asks to do “the swing” now when I come to visit.
That’s such a great story, thank you for sharing. Have you been surprised by anything about Primal 7?
At first, I worried that the Primal 7 would be too complex for someone with Parkinson’s to manage since it has a few moving parts, but with a little encouragement and guidance, my clients have come to really love it. In fact, they ask for it now!
What are your clients’ experiences like with it?
At first my clients are a little hesitant because it can seem intimidating just looking at the unit hanging from the doorway. Once they get in and have a chance to feel it out doing some things they haven’t done in years, however, they end up feeling pretty liberated.
Awesome. Liberated is exactly what we're going for. What do you like best about using Primal 7?
Holy cow, the list is long! It really is a perfect tool for my Parkinson’s [PD] folks. Parkinson’s is a disease that essentially causes everything to move slower and smaller. That’s why you may see someone with PD shuffling their feet, having difficulty standing up out of a chair, or appear very slouched - Their brain isn’t sending enough signal to form normal-sized movements. To counter this, a PD exercise program focuses on using BIG, powerful movements… BIG steps, BIG reaches, BIG everything! The Primal 7 lets me take movements, like the squat, and safely make them BIG and powerful with much less risk for fall or injury from bad form. Since it’s offloading some bodyweight, the unit acts as a kind of “training wheel” and allows clients to workout 2-3 times longer than they’d usually be able to which is crucial to neuroplasticity (ie. changing the brain). As icing on the cake, it’s novel to most of my clients and it offers a lot of tactile stimulation, both of which promote strong connections between the body and the brain.
What’s it like for your clients to use Primal 7 in their homes?
Typically it’s easy to find at least one door in the house that’s set up well for the Primal 7. One place that I almost always end up at is the front door since there’s typically a large open space right inside the front door. The only challenge I’ve run into is when clients have really high doorways, then we’re in trouble.
How would you describe your experience with Primal 7 with regard to safety?
Sometimes working with people who have neurological deficits can be very physically demanding for the therapist. We’re helping people move, occasionally doing some lifting, and catching people when they lose their footing. The Primal acts as a second set of hands and offloads a lot of strain that may typically be put on me, but also supports and makes my client feel safe and secure.
Which Primal 7 exercise is your favorite?
Shuffling when walking with the occasional feeling that your feet are stuck to the floor is a common complaint of someone who has Parkinson’s so there’s a series of 3 Primal 7 exercises I regularly use to help them walk more fluidly:
1st: T-spine stretch
2nd: Rock and Reach
3rd: Superman Step
The 2nd and 3rd are ones I adapted for my clients that aren’t ‘traditional’ Primal moves.
What keeps you motivated to move, and how do you motivate others?
My clients motivate me a lot. Parkinson’s can be a cruel disease and take away your ability to move as freely as you’d like, so every time I’m working out I think “There are people out there who would give anything to be able to do what you’re doing right now!” That gives me a major boost and makes me really appreciate my body, all it can do, and it’s potential. I think motivating others is simply listening to their dreams and goals and letting them know you’re going to do everything in your power to help them achieve those goals. Then it’s just about staying positive and offering support along the way.
What do you wish more people knew about movement?
Our bodies are designed around movement and without it, everything stagnates. Think about a rushing river versus a static pond: The river is always being renewed with fresh, running water. The pond, on the other hand, sits and the water starts to grow mold. Our bodies are very similar - we need movement to regularly flush our blood vessels, joints, and organs to clean out the gunk that collects over time. Even taking 5 minutes to stand up, stretch, and breathe breaks that stagnation and propels your body towards healing.
What are some common movement obstacles, mental and physical, that you see your clients faced with?
While there are quite a few physical obstacles Parkinson’s Disease offers, I’ve seen that the mental outlook is what really dictates whether someone is going to be successful or not with a Parkinson’s rehabilitation program. My clients who look me in the eye and say, “This is my life and I’m ready to do whatever it takes to take back the control of my life” - they thrive. The clients who feel so disempowered that they look at themselves as a victim that has no control over their situation are the ones who really struggle. One of my favorite quotes is “Your body achieves what your mind believes.” - it’s so, so true!
We couldn’t agree more! Finally, what’s the one thing you tell your clients that you wish you could tell everyone?
No matter where you are or what shape you’re in, today… this moment in fact… is your opportunity to start making choices that can propel you towards healing, happiness, and your ultimate state of health and wellbeing. You always have a choice to start anew…
See all of the great work Sarah's doing for yourself at Invigorate PT and Wellness.