Physical Therapy Treatment for Parkinson’s Disease

By Western Berks Physical Therapy on October 5th, 2020

What is Parkinson’s?

Parkinson’s affects about a million adults in the United States. It is a progressive nuerodegenerative disorder that affects movement.  Parkinson’s disease occurs when nerve cells in an area of the brain that controls movement become impaired or die. This nerve cell damage in the brain causes dopamine levels to drop, leading to the symptoms of tremor, slow movement, loss of coordination, and muscle stiffness, which begin gradually and get worse over time.

While Parkinson’s does not have a cure, symptoms can be managed through physical therapy, and progression can be slowed allowing people with Parkinson’s to live a higher quality, and more active life.

What can be done?

Currently, the primary treatments for Parkinson’s are medication and exercise. There are surgical options for people who have exhausted the medications available, or who suffer profound motor deficits. Additional studies are ongoing looking at medical marijuana and other complementary or alternative treatments as well.

Medication

It is important for people with Parkinson’s to work closely with their neurologist because each patient will require a different combination of medications.

The first choice for many patients will be one of the levadopa drugs. This chemical is converted into dopamine in the brain to reduce symptoms like tremor, rigidity, and poor coordination or balance.

There are other drugs that may be used in place of, or in combination with levadopa to manage symptoms. Most patients will need ongoing assessments and changes in their medication regimen as their symptoms progress and change.

Exercise

Research has shown that exercise can help with both motor and non-motor symptoms in people with Parkinson’s. The most important thing for people with Parkinson’s is to get started with exercise early in the disease process and to be consistent with exercise. Your exercise program should focus on a few different components:

  1. Flexibility exercises 
  2. Aerobic activity 
  3. Muscle strengthening 

Some types of exercise like Tai Chi, yoga, Pilates, biking, or dancing combine several of these elements.

At Western Berks Physical Therapy, your physical therapist will complete an individualized evaluation to determine the areas where you have the most trouble, then work with you to design an exercise program to address these areas. They can help you find beneficial types of exercise that you enjoy, which will help you stay consistent with your program and reap the most benefits.

While there is no one answer to manage symptoms and slow progression of Parkinson’s disease, working with your physician and your physical therapist using a combination of medication and exercise has been shown to lead to the highest quality of life.

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