Physical Therapies for Parkinson’s Disease-An Exerpt

This piece originally appeared in Parkinsons’s
When you live with Parkinson’s disease (PD), symptoms can change as the disease progresses. Allied health professionals are medical experts from a variety of fields who can help manage your symptoms at every stage. Having an allied healthcare team is critical to living well with Parkinson’s, as they can help guide exercisenutrition and medications. Rehabilitation is defined as a set of treatments and therapies that can help people with Parkinson’s maintain or improve activities for daily living and independence. Rehabilitation professionals include physical and occupational therapists and speech-language pathologists skilled in PD who can keep you moving well, engaging in activities you love and communicating with the people in your life.

Rehabilitation & Parkinson’s

Research shows that rehabilitation can play a crucial role in prevention of injuries and help enhance quality of life. Most often, people with Parkinson’s are only referred to rehabilitation services when recovering from an injury, such as a fall. However, it is recommended that people with PD should begin rehabilitation at diagnosis and consistently every six to 12 months.

Rehabilitation therapies and exercise can:

  • Slow disease progression
  • Address movement symptoms
  • Improve daily functioning
  • Enhance mood and mental health

Despite mounting evidence, only 14% of people living with PD use speech, occupational or physical therapy as part of a treatment plan. Some medical centers and doctors’ offices incorporate rehabilitation and exercise into care regimens, but many do not.

Building Your Rehabilitation Team

Rehabilitation professionals are medical experts who can help manage your symptoms at every stage and maximize your quality of life. Those skilled in PD can keep you moving well, engaging in activities you love, and communicating with the people in your life. Rehabilitation specialists include:

  • Physical Therapists help people with PD keep moving well, as long as possible, while enhancing the ability to move. Research shows that physical therapy — including gait and balance training, resistance training and regular exercise — may help improve or hold PD symptoms at bay.
  • Occupational Therapists help people with PD continue pursuing the activities that make life meaningful and focuses on remaining independent — whether in work, hobbies, social life or in daily activities.
  • Speech Language Pathologists evaluate speech, voice, communication, swallowing and memory/thinking function. They establish a treatment plan that is consistent with personal goals, such as improving specific communication skills, swallow function and thinking skills.

Physical Therapy

Why Physical Therapy:

A physical therapist is uniquely trained to design an exercise routine that targets specific motor impairments. Physical therapists also have an opportunity to provide frequent, direct feedback to help make you aware of how to exercise most effectively and safely.

A physical therapist can provide:

  • Education and self-management advice.
  • Exercise routines that have been associated with improvements (or slower declines) in mobility, quality of life and disease severity.
  • Answers to questions about the type, intensity, frequency or duration of exercise that is best for you.
  • Ways to maintain safety when exercising.
  • Help with:
    • Normal physical activity routine
    • Walking (slowness, small steps)
    • Freezing of gait (feeling glued to the floor or difficulty getting started)
    • Balance or stability
    • Posture
    • Pain
    • Moving around the house (getting up from a chair, moving around in bed)
    • Getting around (in/out of a car or bus, elevators, stairs and uneven ground)
  • Address fear of falling, fall prevention or worries about your safety.
  • Other health problems that affect mobility, including joint or muscle pain from arthritis, problems with endurance due to a heart or lung condition or a broken bone or surgery.

When To Find a Physical Therapist:

Physical therapists can be helpful at all stages of PD. Movement impairments in the early stages of the disease may not be obvious. By engaging a physical therapist with neurological specialization as part of their medical team, people with Parkinson’s disease can address bothersome symptoms and learn ways to prevent falls before they happen. Talk to your doctor about getting a baseline physical therapy evaluation and then continue with periodic re-evaluations.

According to the Parkinson’s Outcomes Project, the largest clinical study of Parkinson’s disease through our Global Care Networkincreasing physical activity to at least 2.5 hours a week can slow decline in quality of life. The Parkinson’s Foundation has identified specific care approaches associated with better outcomes across people who seek expert care at our designated Centers of Excellence. Among others, best practices include early referral to physical therapy and encouragement of exercise as part of treatment.

Setting Movement Goals with your Therapist:

Each individual works with their physical therapist to set personalized movement goals. Physical therapists can help you optimize your exercise routine based on the latest research, re-learn challenging tasks or stay safe and independent in the home.

Some of the most common movement goals for people with Parkinson’s include:

  • Learning about exercises
  • Improving walking, balance or posture
  • Addressing fall risk
  • Treating pain

Before your first visit, think about your movement goals and write down your problems and questions. This will help you organize your thoughts. You can do this for future visits, too.

Finding Expert PD Physical Therapy

It is important to find a physical therapist who has specialty training and experience working with PD, like LSVTBig. You may find experienced physical therapists working in hospital outpatient departments, home health agencies, nursing homes or within the community close to your home. Ask your neurologist for a referral at your next appointment.

Training Future Physical Therapists in Parkinson’s

Did you know the Parkinson’s Foundation is working to better educate physical therapy students across the country to ensure better PD care for everyone?

The Parkinson’s Foundation Physical Therapy Faculty Program is improving Parkinson’s physical therapy care by training faculty leaders across the U.S. so they can, in turn, educate physical therapy students. The intensive course allows physical therapy educators to immerse themselves in learning the latest evidence-based findings in Parkinson’s research and care. Physical therapy educators can make a great impact on the lives of people with PD by bringing this knowledge back to their students, our future practitioners.

For more information on other therapies for Parkinson’s, please click below.


this excerpt originally appeared in