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The Role of Physical Therapy – Parkinson’s Disease

The Role of Physical Therapy – Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is an extremely common condition, affecting approximately 1 million people in the United States. It is the second most common degenerative brain disorder that affects adults, second only to Alzheimer’s disease. Individuals with Parkinson’s disease are at an increased risk of falling and suffering injuries due to their issues with movement and balance.

Physical therapy plays an important role in the management of Parkinson’s disease as it helps to manage symptoms, maintain physical fitness levels, and help affected individuals to remain as active as possible. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a consultation with one of the physical therapists at Blue Hills Sports & Spine Rehabilitation can help to manage the disorder and improve quality of life.

What Is Parkinson’s Disease? 

As mentioned above, Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative brain disorder that is related to a loss of nerve cells in the area of the brain known as the substantia nigra. These cells are responsible for producing a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine, along with other brain chemicals, are important for coordinated body movements, decision-making, mood changes, and other behavior. While the exact cause of Parkinson’s disease remains unknown, aging, family history, and exposure to certain toxins in the environment can contribute to the onset of the disease.

The severity of Parkinson’s disease symptoms varies widely among patients. Some patients have a slower decline in mobility and thinking while others have a rapid decline.

Parkinson’s disease can present with non-motor symptoms years before motor symptoms start to show. Non-motor symptoms may include fatigue, reduced sense of smell, sleep difficulties, reduced concentration, depression, anxiety, and lightheadedness. Motor symptoms, which are more characteristic of the disease, typically begin around the age of 60, but early onset of the disease can occur in younger individuals. Initially, motor symptoms may be mild, with a common early symptom being a tremor, at rest, in one hand. These tremors can also occur in the legs or jaw. These tremors typically subside with movement, so they don’t interfere with the ability to carry out daily functions.

Other motor symptoms that can occur as the disease progresses include shuffling gait, rigidity (muscle and joint stiffness), pain due to muscle stiffness, balance issues, slowed movements, arm swinging issues with walking, stooped posture, difficulty with speaking and swallowing, difficulty with facial expressions, and bladder incontinence. 

Diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease can be difficult as there is no definitive test for the disorder. A diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease is generally made based on the results of the individual’s medical history and neurological examination. If you are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, you are encouraged to consult with a physical therapist that will help you manage your symptoms.

The Role of Physical Therapy

Parkinson’s disease affects each individual differently, therefore, your physical therapist with work with you to create an individualized program to help you maintain your independence for as long as possible.

Your physical therapist with perform a thorough medical history and physical examination to assess your strength, flexibility, balance, co-ordination, and walking. Based upon the findings of the examination, your physical therapist will tailor a program to your needs, which may include manual therapy, as well as stretching and strengthening exercises to help you manage the symptoms of the disorder.

Typically a physical therapy program helps to:

  • Improve your flexibility, strength, co-ordination and overall fitness
  • Improve your ability to perform movements with your hands
  • Improve your ability to mobilize up and down stairs
  • Improve your ability to change directions with your feet

Your physical therapist will also teach you effective ways to get in and out of you chair, bed, etc. safely, and teach you how to roll over in bed. They will also assess you to determine if you would benefit from assistive devices such as a cane or walker. If it is determined that you would benefit from assistive devices they can ensure that you are using them effectively and efficiently.

If you suffer with Parkinson’s disease, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Your physical therapist at Blue Hills Sports & Spine Rehabilitation will work with you and your healthcare team to help you manage your symptoms so that you can remain as active and independent as possible.