Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disorder that causes problems with movement and coordination. Physical therapy can offer significant benefits for people living with the condition.
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive condition of the central nervous system due to low dopamine levels in the brain.
Physical therapy (PT) improves a person’s range of movement, prevents further injury or disability, and improves the quality of a person’s life.
This article explores the benefits of PT for people with Parkinson’s disease. It also provides tips for finding a physical therapist and explains when to contact a doctor.
According to the Parkinson’s Outcomes Project, PT can improve the quality of life for people with Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s UK notes that PT can help people with Parkinson’s disease by:
- keeping joints and muscles flexible
- building strength
- reducing stiffness and slowness
- boosting circulation
- managing pain
- improving mobility, movement, and bodily functions
- maintaining daily independence
- maintaining and improving effective breathing
- helping to prevent falls
- managing stress
- boosting mood
A physical therapist will work directly with a person to create routines and exercises to help them regain or prevent loss of movement. Symptoms and progression of Parkinson’s disease vary from one person to the next, so a physical therapist will devise a treatment plan for each individual.
Also, because PT encompasses self-management patient education, hands-on care, and exercise prescription, the Parkinson’s Foundation notes that a physical therapist can:
- provide tips on self-management
- suggest exercise routines to improve movement, balance, and posture
- answer questions on the type, frequency, and duration of exercise to meet a person’s needs
- advise on how to maintain safety during exercise
- help with daily physical activities, such as walking, moving around the house, getting in and out of the bus, car, or elevator
- address any concerns or complications interfering with activities of daily living
- recommend and help with the use of walking devices and adaptive equipment
The Parkinson’s Foundation recommends finding a physical therapist with training and experience working with people with Parkinson’s disease.
A person can find a physical therapist to help manage Parkinson’s disease by:
- Asking their neurologist for a referral: Neurologists have lists of physical therapists and can recommend one suitable to treat a person’s condition.
- Contacting the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA): APTA is the governing body of physical therapists in the United States. A person can access a licensed physical therapist by searching through APTA’s online PT finder. APTA also has a directory of board certified physical therapists across various medical specialties.
- Calling the Parkinson’s Foundation Helpline: A person can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call the toll-free Helpline at 1-800-4PD-INFO (473-4636).
- Searching the global Lee Silverman Voice Treatment (LSVT) directory: People can find an LSVT-certified physical therapist at www.lsvtglobal.com or call 1-888-438-5788.
- Calling the department of physical therapy at the closest university: Departments of PT in academic institutions have a rich resource list of physical therapists. A person may contact a college or university nearest to them for more information.
- Contacting their insurance provider: Insurance companies have lists of PT locations participating in specific health plans and can be a helpful resource. A person can check for a physical therapist with their insurance plan provider.
After finding a physical therapist, the next step is to contact them and book an appointment for an initial evaluation. This can take place in an outpatient clinic, hospital, private practice, or at home if a person cannot move around due to illness or injury.
The number of PT sessions a person needs can vary. Depending on the facility and an individual’s requirements, sessions are usually between 30 minutes and 1 hour.
During the first few sessions, a physical therapist will assess a person’s needs and map out a customized exercise plan. A therapist will give a person exercises to do at home and schedule regular PT sessions as necessary.
The European Parkinson’s Disease Association (EPDA) recommends that a person tries to exercise for at least 150 minutes each week. They can break this down into five 30-minute sessions, ten 15-minute sessions, or three bursts of 10 minutes each.
The EPDA describes the LSVT Big program, which involves 16 sessions over a month, or 4 hourly sessions each week. This intensive treatment focuses on improving fine motor and gross motor movements, making daily tasks easier for people with Parkinson’s disease.
A person can ask a physical therapist about the duration and frequency of their PT sessions.
According to the World Confederation for Physical Therapy, apart from performing PT treatments and interventions, a licensed physical therapist can:
- give a clinical diagnosis and prognosis
- determine outcomes of a clinical intervention
- conduct a physical evaluation of a person’s movement and flexibility
- map out short and long-term goals
- give self-management recommendations to manage conditions across multiple specialties
- refer a person to other healthcare professionals
According to the American Parkinson Disease Association (APDA), while PT focuses on improving a person’s movement, occupational therapy can equip a person with the necessary skills to carry out daily activities such as cooking, walking, and swallowing food.
For an individual with Parkinson’s disease, an occupational therapist can:
- recommend home modifications
- recommend workplace modifications
- teach cooking and eating adaptations
- help with dressing and grooming aids
- offer tips to navigate daily activities
People should attend regular checkups and preventive screenings for Parkinson’s disease to help doctors identify possible signs and symptoms early. An early diagnosis can lead to earlier treatment, which can improve a person’s quality of life.
Individuals should speak with a doctor if they experience any of the following early symptoms:
- small handwriting, or micrographia
- loss of smell, or anosmia
- trouble moving or walking
- a tremor in the chin, finger, thumb, or hand
- sleeping difficulties
- masked face
- voice change
- stooping or hunched posture
Also, if a person is undergoing PT or other forms of treatment for Parkinson’s disease, they should consult a doctor to evaluate their treatment plan.
The Sepsis Alliance explains that, while Parkinson’s disease is not fatal, complications, such as falls and infections, may arise and become life threatening.
A physical therapist will teach a person simple at-home exercises during PT sessions. A person may need to practice these exercises regularly to achieve the best outcomes.
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PT can be very beneficial in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.
Following the recommendations of a licensed physical therapist, a person may notice improvements in movement, balance, and other bodily functions. It can also help them live as independently as possible.
A physical therapist will evaluate an individual’s needs and create a customized plan to meet their PT goals.