Physical Therapy for Parkinson’s Disease: Benefits and Its Types

Physical Therapy for Parkinson’s Disease is to help patients keep moving as long as possible while enhancing their ability to move. Recent research suggests that physical therapies that include gait, balance training, regular exercises, and resistance training also help improve or hold the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. It can strengthen patients’ muscles, increase their mobility, improve coordination and balance, and ultimately, help them remain independent. 

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How Does Physical Therapy for Parkinson’s Help Patients?

Parkinson’s disease affects every patient differently, and physical therapists develop specific training programs for each patient while consulting with patients and their families. They also team with other healthcare providers to manage specific cases as the condition of patients changes. After a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, the physical therapist will conduct a complete evaluation. This examination will include the tests for:

  • Posture.
  • Strength.
  • Flexibility.
  • Walking.
  • Endurance.
  • Balance.
  • Coordination.
  • Attention with movement.

Physical therapy for Parkinson’s will consist of a treatment plan according to the specific needs and goals of patients in order to help them stay as independent and active as possible. Physical therapies effectively help patients to move in and around their homes, perform everyday activities, and take part in sports or other physical tasks.

Physical therapists design a well-rounded exercise program specific to the patient’s disease stage and goals. Exercises and techniques in physical therapies help patients battle symptoms and slow the decline in various physical conditions. It also improves the mobility of patients, recovers lost function due to the disease or after a fall or injury, and maintains function over the long term.

Depending on the nature and severity of the patient’s condition, physical therapists may focus on activities that can significantly enhance their quality of life and impart multiple benefits, including:

  • Improve fitness level, flexibility, and strength.
  • Help patients get in and out of bed, chairs, and cars easily.
  • Improve the smoothness and coordination of walking.
  • Improve the ability to perform hand movements.
  • Decrease the risk of falling or tripping.
  • Improve the ability to climb and go downstairs.
  • Enable patients to perform more than one task at a time more efficiently.
  • Boosts blood circulation in stiffened or weakened muscles.

Types Of Physical Therapy For Parkinson’s Disease:

The physical therapy for Parkinson’s program for patients usually includes some or all of the following exercises or therapies:

1. Stretching and Flexibility Exercises:

Stretching and flexibility exercises help increase the range of motion of patients. It is quite common for patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease to develop tight hip flexors and calf muscles. Physical therapy for Parkinson’s can counteract this stiffness by helping to stretch these muscles at frequent intervals throughout the day rather than just once. One can practice the physical exercises taught by their therapist the entire day.

Being flexible is essential for everyday movements like bending, walking, and lifting. When you increase flexibility through stretching exercises, you may have an easier time performing various activities like getting out of bed, putting on clothes, and picking items off the floor. Stretching routine generally focuses on these specific areas:

  • Shoulders and elbows
  • Calves
  • Hamstrings and knees
  • Improve the ability to perform hand movements.
  • Wrists and palms
  • Lower back
  • Neck
  • Chest wall

2. Reciprocal Movements:

Reciprocal movements are carried out at the same time in opposite directions. For example, swinging arms as a person walks is a type of reciprocal movement. Parkinson’s disease can impair a person’s ability to make reciprocal movements which can lead to balance issues, but physical therapy can significantly help restore these movements.

Physical therapy for Parkinson’s might also include the use of a stationary bike or elliptical machine to strengthen the patient’s reciprocal patterns. They may also recommend some other reciprocal movements by focusing on swinging arms as patients walk.

3. Balance Training:

Normal balance is an interplay between what a person sees, how his inner ear helps him to orient himself, and how his feet sense the ground. Parkinson’s disease affects this balance system, making the gait unstable, which in turn may make people fearful of being in public or crowded places. Physical therapy for Parkinson’s can include Gait training exercises which can help restore balance. These balance exercises should be guided by a physical therapist, who can work with patients to understand any issues with balance and teach them ways to restore it.

4. Strength Training:

Muscles naturally weaken with age, so strength training is equally essential for everyone. But research shows that muscle weakness is a major problem for patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Depending on the disease stage, physical therapy for Parkinson’s can include various strength training exercises with light dumbbells or resistance bands to patients. Pool-based classes can also be good, using the water’s resistance to strengthen the weakened muscles.

5. Amplitude Training:

Amplitude training is a form of physical therapy of Parkinson’s which consists of an advanced group exercise that utilizes multidirectional,  high-intensity, and repetitive movements to increase patients’ balance, endurance, and functionality. Furthermore, it is specifically designed to reduce hypokinesia and bradykinesia. Bradykinesia is a slowness of movement and is one of the primary symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Whereas hypokinesia refers to small movements and is a common symptom of PD.

With amplitude training, patients practice exaggerated movements, such as taking high steps or swinging their arms. This therapy helps retrain the patients’ muscles and improves their smaller and slowed movements.

6. Dual-Task Practice:

Parkinson’s disease can make it challenging for a person to multitask or engage in various activities simultaneously, which increases fall risk and makes everyday activities much more difficult. If an individual finds problems while doing more than one task at a time, his physical therapist might design specific training programs to help with this symptom. For example, they might ask such patients to try walking while counting, naming objects, or bouncing a ball. The main point is to retrain the brain to do multiple things at once. Moreover, dual-task practice can also improve balance skills.

Hence physical therapy for Parkinson’s can prove to be very beneficial for patients. Following the recommendations of a licensed physical therapist, patients can notice significant improvements in their movement, balance, and other bodily functions, and it can also enable them to live as independently as possible.