Former footballer putting a spring back into patients' steps with fitness and rehab centre

Neil Smith, owner of Fitbank Healthcare
Neil Smith, owner of Fitbank Healthcare

A fitness and wellbeing centre is making waves for patients with chronic and degenerative conditions.

Neil Smith, managing director of Fitbank Health Group, has honed his rehabilitative therapies to help Parkinson’s sufferers regain control of their muscles.

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The 34-year-old former footballer says that although there remains no cure for the debilitating disease, his patients are getting the spring back in their step thanks to the innovative techniques used at the centre.

Neil, who has recently opened a new centre in Westhoughton, treats people of all ages with a range of conditions - from sports-related muscle injuries to long-term diseases.

Using vibration therapy, Neil has enabled Parkinson’s patients - who often shake or shuffle due to the disease - to regain control over their limbs.

Eddie Cauchie, 71, was diagnosed with the condition two years ago and was struggling to walk covering even the shortest distances.

After undergoing vibration therapy - which incorporates gentle exercise and vibration plates (otherwise known as power plates) - he is now able to walk, run and jump again.

“I used to stutter really badly,” he said. “I used to need someone to push me to physically get me going.

“I would get stuck if I bent down to use the oven. I didn’t leave the house very much.

“I started seeing Neil about six months ago.

“Already this year I have been to the Christmas markets.

“I have to do the therapy three or four times a week otherwise I will start going a bit slower but it has really helped me so much.”

The theory behind Eddie’s progress is that the vibration rate (around 35 times per second) is much higher than the average human body can vibrate and gives Eddie a feeling of stillness when he is back on solid ground.

Neil, who played football for around 18 years before becoming injured himself, said that he likes to think outside the box when it comes to treatment.

After six months, the centre already stocks devices which are rarely found in the UK, apart from top-performing football clubs.

One of the machines is able to scan the body using laser beams to identify damage to muscles and bones.

Wigan Observer reporter Rachel Howarth undertook a scan which was able to identify a pre-existing shoulder condition which had been undisclosed.

Neil said he is hoping to roll some aspects of his treatment out to the community, including the use of “Fitlights” which are designed to measure co-ordination.

Each Fitlight will light up in turn and the participant covers the sensor with either their hand or foot.

The device, which is linked to a tablet, then creates a report of reaction times and can be used to distinguish the difference between different limbs.

“Anyone can use them,” said Neil. “The great thing about using the equipment we have is that you don’t have to be an athlete at all. Anyone can use it.”

Neil is currently in talks with local care homes to establish if any residents would benefit from regular sessions with the team.

Ali Jackson, 30, also helps at Fitbank following her own recovery at the rehabilitation centre. Until recently, Ali had not hugged anyone for 10 years due to chronic pain in her ribs following a trampolining accident when she was 16.

Despite numerous medical appointments, no one was able to establish what was causing the severe shooting pains in the side of her body.

“I couldn’t be touched,” she said. “If someone touched me without warning the pain would make me drop to my knees.

“I couldn’t pick up my nephew because it hurt too much. It used to upset my friends and family because they couldn’t hug me ever.”

However after her brother booked her a session with Neil, Ali said her life has completely changed.

He theorised that the incident had caused nerves to become exposed in the side of her body, and worked with her over a series of sessions to relax the muscles surrounding her ribs.

“I can walk normally now,” she said. “Last month I was at my brother’s wedding, I was dancing and picking up my nephew.

“The first thing I said when I walked into Neil was ‘you won’t be able to help me’. I was so wrong.”

To find out more about Fitbank Health Group visit or call 01942 386200.