Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a progressive neurological disorder that affects movement, balance, posture, and coordination. It can also cause non-motor symptoms such as pain, fatigue, mood changes and cognitive impairment. According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, about one million American and more than 10 million people worldwide are diagnosed with it.
While there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, physical therapy is beneficial and can help people manage their symptoms and improve the quality of life in the following ways:
- Improving muscle strength and endurance. Both age and Parkinson’s disease can weaken and decondition muscles. A physical therapist will prescribe exercises using light weights or resistance bands to improve strength, balance, and mobility.
- Enhancing movement. Parkinson’s disease can reduce movement and affect walking, speech, facial expressions, and gestures. A physical therapist can teach physical movements, such as high steps and arm swings, to help retrain the muscles and brain to compensate for the reduced movement that Parkinson’s can cause.
- Reinforcing reciprocal patterns. Reciprocal movements are side-to-side and left-to-right patterns, such as swinging the arms while walking. PD can affect these patterns, which makes walking slow and unstable. Physical therapy uses equipment such as a recumbent bicycle and other physical activities such as walking with exaggerated arm swings to improve coordination, rhythm, and fluidity of movement for people with PD.
- Improving balance and posture. Parkinson’s disease commonly impairs balance. Physical therapy can help to improve balance using exercises that challenge stability, such as standing on one leg or walking on uneven surfaces. Physical therapy can also improve posture by correcting any muscle tightness or weakness.
- Increasing flexibility and range of motion. PD also often causes muscle stiffness and rigidity. Physical therapy can help increase flexibility and range of motion with stretching exercises that target specific muscles. Common areas of tightness are the hip flexors, hamstrings, and calves. Stretching regularly can also help to reduce pain and muscle tension.
- Providing education and self-management advice. Physical therapy can help people learn more about PD and how it affects their movement. A physical therapist can provide tips on how to maintain safety when exercising, how to cope with fatigue or pain, how to use assistive devices if needed, and how to prevent or manage complications such as falls.
Physical therapy is a valuable treatment option for people with Parkinson’s disease, as it can help to improve or maintain their physical function, mobility, and independence. Physical therapy can also enhance quality of life, confidence, and well-being. If you have PD or know someone who does, consult with a Northern Rehab physical therapist to see how we can help you. Although it is important to keep your doctor informed about starting a new program, a physician’s prescription is not required to begin physical therapy treatment. For more information, please call us at 815.756.8524 to schedule an evaluation.