Physical Therapy for Parkinson's Disease
Updated: Aug 30
April 11th is National Parkinson's Disease Day. Parkinson's disease is a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects movement. Neurons in the brain gradually break down or die, causing abnormal brain activity. This leads to impaired movement, speech changes, tremors, and other symptoms.
Parkinson's disease is not curable yet, but symptoms can be controlled with medication and physical therapy.
Since Parkinson's disease (PD) is a disorder that primarily affects movement, physical therapy is a very successful treatment to help manage Parkinson's symptoms. Physical therapists are movement experts and treat both gross motor and fine motor motions.
Physical therapists treat Parkinson's with three specific therapies:
Balance Retraining: PD affects a part of the brain called the basal ganglia, which is responsible for ensuring smooth movements and automatic balance. When the basal ganglia doesn't work well, the brain redirects the commands to the frontal cortex - the thinking part of the brain. Therefore, instead of automatically correcting your body as you walk or step up stairs, you have to actually think about balancing. A physical therapist with extensive knowledge of the balance system and PD will work with a PD patient to improve their walking and balancing, teaching them how to balance while thinking.
Exercise: Exercise significantly reduces the risk of falling - whether you do or do not have PD. It is the only intervention that reduces fall risk, and physical therapists are the experts. Exercising builds up muscle strength, which increases endurance, balance while moving, and even cognitive function - which is important when your brain isn't functioning the same way that it used to. People with PD tend to lose muscle mass in their back and hips - muscle groups that help keep us upright and balanced. A physical therapist will create a patient-specific exercise program to help strengthen weak muscles, and keep muscle groups in balance.
Big and Loud: A physical therapist who truly understands PD knows that balance retraining and exercise are incredible tools for anyone, especially older adults. But people with PD need more than just balance retraining and exercise. For Parkinson's patients, "big" and "loud" are important words to remember. Big, intentional movements and loud vocal commands help the brain understand that you are supposed to keep moving. As well, PD patients' movements tend to get smaller (smaller steps, cramped writing, softer voice, etc), so while "big and loud" may feel "big and loud" to them, they actually tend to be viewed as normal to outsiders. Big and Loud therapies do tend to work best when started in earlier stages of PD.
FlexPlus Physical Therapy & Balance Centers specialize in treatment of balance disorders, including Parkinson's disease. We even have special safety equipment to eliminate fall risks during treatment.
If you or a loved one has balance issues, we'd love to help. Call us at (508) 650-0060 to set up an initial evaluation today! Not sure if physical therapy is right for you? Ask us for a FREE consultation. At FlexPlus Physical Therapy, we're here With You Every Step of the Way.