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Parkinson’s Disease and Physical Therapy


Nearly one million people in the U.S. are currently living with Parkinson’s disease, making it the second most common neurodegenerative disease.  Symptoms often begin around age 60 years, but can occur earlier. Since these symptoms include shaking, stiffening, slow movements, and difficulty with balancing, physical therapy can be an effective treatment to help patients manage symptoms.

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative brain disorder that typically develops slowly and worsens over time. In affected patients, the brain slowly stops producing a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which results in a decreased ability to control their emotions, body, and movements. So what causes this disease? There actually is no proven cause. However, aging, exposure to environmental toxins, or your family history can act as contributing factors.

Four Main Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease

As the disease progresses you might start noticing other symptoms, but at first they can be very moderate.

  1. Problems with walking or balancing
  2. Slow movements
  3. Stiff muscles
  4. Shaking or trembling, usually in your hands, arms, or legs

Other symptoms might include:

  • Difficulty speaking
  • Difficulty paying attention for a certain period of time
  • Decreased facial expression


There is no specific test for the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. It is established by your medical history and a neurological examination. If your doctor or physical therapist believes you have symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, you may be referred to a neurologist for further examination.

If you have any of the following, a diagnosis will be made:

  • Symptoms only on one side of the body
  • At least 2 of the key signs — tremor when resting, slowing of motion, or muscle rigidity
  • An improvement in your symptoms when taking levodopa, a medication to treat Parkinson’s disease

Physical Therapy and Parkinson’s Disease

Although physical therapy doesn’t cure Parkinson’s disease, it can help patients learn strategies and new movement techniques to optimize function. The treatment plan will be prepared by your physical therapist after a comprehensive evaluation that includes questions about the effects it has on your life along with a test to examine your coordination, posture, balance, flexibility, walking, and strength. Your physical therapist will act as a partner with you and your family to teach you exercises tailored to your needs that can ease and strengthen your muscles, enhance your independence, function and movement, and soothe your pain. Physical therapy can help with:

  • Weakness
  • Gait
  • Immobility
  • Balance problems
  • Fatigue
  • Pain
  • Lack of coordination

Exercises that can be done at home:

  • Swimming or aerobics
  • Yoga
  • Walking
  • Gardening
  • Dancing
  • Stretching

Physical therapy can be an effective treatment to help patients manage Parkinson’s Disease symptoms and improve their quality of life. At ACCESS PT, our physical therapists are experts in developing customized treatment plans to meet the specific needs of each patient. By incorporating exercises and techniques tailored to each individual’s needs, physical therapy can help manage the main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease such as stiffness, tremors, and balance problems. If you or a loved one are living with Parkinson’s disease, we invite you to call your local ACCESS PT office to discuss how physical therapy can help you. Take the first step towards improving your mobility, independence, and overall quality of life.