Medical trio at UF Health Jacksonville uses golf to help patients with Parkinson’s

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — We are just one day away from round one of The Players Championship. Golf lovers from all over are gearing up and making their way to TPC Sawgrass.


It turns out fans and athletes aren’t the only ones using golf as a way to make them smile. So are patients at UF Health Jacksonville with Parkinson’s disease.

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Dr. Joseph Legacy, a neurologist, and Sara Young, an orthopedic specialist, both work at UF Health Jacksonville to better the lives of their patients who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

“A neurological condition, it’s a movement disorder,” Legacy said.

A movement disorder that often times has symptoms ranging from tremors, stiff muscle movement and impaired balance.

“Movement is a way to combat what is coming down the pipe with Parkinson’s disease, there is currently not a cure,” Young said.

Still, there are ways to slow its progression. That’s where golfing comes in.

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“Lack of arm swing, difficulty with trunk rotation and a lot of those things specifically we work on with our golf program,” Barksdale said.

“We want to help with those big movements, those rotational movements so that people who kind of feel stuck in their bodies, in their impairments can get better,” Young said.

Legacy, Young and Barksdale hope to help patients get better with a 6-week golf and mobility program spearheaded by Dr. Heather Barksdale, a neuro physical therapist at UF Health Jacksonville. She credits Dr. Legacy and Young for its progression because they’re both collegiate golfers.

“We thought of golf, and it really lends itself well to people with Parkinson’s and with essential tremor, so it’s been a nice combination and that’s how we came up with the idea,” Barksdale said.

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Dr. Barksdale tells me when her patients are golfing, they can keep track of their progress by taking a swing and then taking a look back at a golf power meter. It measures your swing, speed and angle. That helps Barksdale, Young and Legacy determine how a patient’s mobility is declining or progressing.

“Golf is a rehab tool to help these people with the common symptoms that they experience, tremor, slowness in movement, moving stiffer,” Legacy said.

The golf and mobility program started in December of 2022 and so far, three patients have completed it, five are in the process of completion and another five are waiting for their evaluation approval so they too can enter the program.

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The trio says the program is also good for patients who are recovering from having had a stroke. One day they hope to incorporate boxing in the mix since it’s helpful with swing and rotation.