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How Physical Therapy Can Enhance the Lives of Parkinson's Patients

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson's Disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that affects the nervous system, leading to movement disorders and non-movement issues. It is caused by the loss of dopamine and norepinephrine, two essential neurotransmitter chemicals in the brain. Parkinson’s manifests through the gradual degeneration of dopamine-producing neurons in the basal ganglia, a structure located deep within the brain, responsible for controlling movement. As these neurons deteriorate, the brain begins to accumulate an abnormal amount of chemicals called Lewy Bodies, which can lead to difficulties with movement and cognition.

Parkinson’s Disease impacts millions of people globally. In the United States, more than 60,000 new cases are diagnosed annually. Men are 1.5x more likely to be affected than women. While the exact cause of Parkinson's is still largely unknown, multiple contributing factors have been identified.

It has been discovered that genetics play a role in 10-15% of all cases while environmental triggers such as head trauma, toxin exposure, and other metals may also increase the risk of developing the condition. Researchers believe it is likely that a combination of both genetic and environmental influences contribute to the development of Parkinson's Disease.

Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease 

The primary symptoms of Parkinson’s include tremors, bradykinesia (slowness of movement), decreased facial expression and speech, rigidity, dyskinesia (involuntary movements), festination (short rapid steps), freezing, small handwriting, shuffling gait or soft speech. Other common symptoms include loss of smell, constipation, depression, sleep disruption, and cognitive changes.

These signs can vary in severity depending on how much dopamine has been depleted; they also vary between individuals. Additionally, people with Parkinson’s are prone to experience cognitive declines such as dementia and other thinking impairments due to protein accumulation from Lewy Bodies.

Diagnosing Parkinson’s Disease

Diagnosing Parkinson's can be difficult since no single test can detect it. A combination of clinical assessments combined with laboratory tests is usually necessary for confirmation. Symptoms may develop slowly over years without being noticed until they become more pronounced and advanced. 

Currently, there is no known cure for Parkinson’s but treatments such as medications and various therapies can help reduce symptoms and slow down the progression of the disease. Parkinson’s Disease is a degenerative movement disorder that can affect many parts of the body from how someone is able to walk, stand, speak, and even write. There are different stages of Parkinson’s Disease, given its degenerative nature, and the level to which it affects people varies greatly.

Parkinson’s Stages

At the initial stage of Parkinson's Disease, symptoms are very mild and primarily affect only one side of the body. Despite this, people can still live independently and perform daily activities such as working or taking care of household chores. As the disease progresses to stage two, motor abnormalities usually start affecting both sides of the body, making it more difficult to complete tasks. Oftentimes, tasks will also take longer to accomplish. In stage three, movement slows considerably, and simple activities like getting dressed or brushing your teeth become more challenging. People may also experience more frequent falls but can still be independent. By stage four, people may need walkers or assistance with basic daily activities like bathing or eating. The final stage of Parkinson’s Disease is marked by reliance on a wheelchair for mobility and 24-hour care.

Surgery and Medication for the Treatment of Parkinson’s Disease

While there is no known cure, there are numerous treatments available to help manage symptoms and improve the quality of life for people with Parkinson’s Disease. Medications can be used to reduce stiffness and slowness of movement, while surgical procedures may be utilized to replace or regulate the activity of certain damaged brain cells. Lifestyle changes such as eating healthy, exercising regularly, and reducing stress can also play an important role in improving function. Finally, physical therapy can help with balance, gait, coordination, and strength training. Ultimately, it is important to find the right combination of treatments to see the best results for managing Parkinson's Disease. 

Many people living with Parkinson's Disease are prescribed medications to improve their symptoms, the most common being dopamine-based drugs. These medications aim to replace dopamine which is naturally lost due to the disease. In more extreme cases, deep brain stimulation surgery is performed. This procedure is similar to a pacemaker, where electrodes are implanted in an area of the brain that is affected by Parkinson's and stimulated in order to reduce or control tremors or abnormal movements caused by the condition.

The Benefits of Physical Therapy for Managing Parkinson’s Symptoms

Physical therapy is a great way to help people with Parkinson's Disease enhance their mobility, quality of life, and independence. Often combined with other treatments for optimal results, physical therapy is an effective yet non-invasive option. Many physical therapists are specially trained to work with patients who have Parkinson's and help them achieve their goals. Physical therapy designed for Parkinson’s patients is typically engaging and enjoyable, providing the tools necessary for success and the motivation to continue a path toward wellness. 

Occupational Therapy can also be an integral part of treatment for people living with Parkinson's Disease, as it helps to improve activities of daily living using specialized techniques. These activities may include handwriting, dressing, grooming, showering, and transfer training. Physical therapy can help to improve a person's gait, balance, strength, and flexibility. Speech therapy is also beneficial and can be used to address cognitive issues, swallowing difficulties, and speech impairments. To maximize the potential benefits of these therapies, regular practice is essential. This consists of structured exercise routines tailored to the individual's needs. Through holistic care designed specifically for their condition, individuals with Parkinson’s Disease can improve their quality of life and retain physical independence for longer.

Those diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease typically experience an increase in falls due to the motor symptoms, balance impairment and cognitive decline which is normally associated with the disease. It can be incredibly debilitating, making walking and performing everyday tasks difficult. But there are treatments available, such as balance therapy, which can help decrease fall risk and increase confidence. 

In FYZICAL’s one-of-a-kind balance program, we will first evaluate your walking patterns, known as your gait, to determine potential problems with strength and posture. Then, we’ll test your balance by having you perform simple movements. These tests help us determine the individualized focus for therapy. Our team will create a fully customized balance therapy program to help you navigate challenging terrain and avoid dizzy spells. Your program may consist of manual therapy, vestibular rehabilitation and functional training.

At FYZICAL, we have advanced tools to assist with balance training, which includes our Safety Overhead Support (SOS) System. This overhead harness system consists of a trolly attached to the ceiling which allows our patients, while secured in a simple body harness, the freedom to safely perform functional activities. We are able to challenge our patients appropriately to achieve the best possible results with balance and vestibular function without the fear of falling. In addition to our facilities and equipment designed specifically for balance training, FYZICAL offers a holistic therapy approach including patient education to improve our patient’s health outcomes. Our therapists educate our patients and prescribe at-home exercises to help improve strength and confidence even after in-clinic therapy is completed.

A Healthy Diet & Parkinson’s Symptoms

Eating a healthy diet is an important part of managing Parkinson's Disease. Eating a balanced diet can help reduce the symptoms of Parkinson's, as well as improve overall health and well-being. Foods that are high in antioxidants, such as fruits and vegetables, have been linked to lower levels of inflammation which have been associated with improved outcomes for those living with this condition. Additionally, eating foods that contain essential vitamins and minerals can aid in reducing fatigue, improving energy levels, and maintaining muscle strength. In order to get the most benefit from your diet, it is best to incorporate whole grains, lean proteins, low-fat dairy products and plenty of fresh fruits and veggies into your daily meals. Doing so will provide you with the necessary nutrients that are beneficial for managing Parkinson’s Disease while also helping you maintain a healthy weight.

 What is LSVT BIG? 

LSVT BIG is a type of physical therapy for Parkinson’s Disease which focuses on using large amplitude and high-effort movements to increase strength and function in the lower limbs. This program is designed to help people in various stages of Parkinson’s Disease.

LSVT BIG provides a structured exercise routine to follow with daily homework and additionally offers the opportunity for individuals to progressively increase the intensity of their workouts and become independent. As a result, those who have gone through this program report improved physical strength and mobility, as well as improved attitude, morale, cognitive functioning, and overall psychological well-being. Participants often feel empowered by their control over their progress and development. Positive changes experienced by these patients often continue long after completion of the program demonstrating its effectiveness in bringing about positive life changes that are both meaningful and lasting.

Those suffering from early to moderate stages of Parkinson's can gain the ability to perform daily activities easily and regularly like walking faster with bigger steps and getting up from chairs or beds more comfortably. People in the later stages of the disease can still gain advantages from the program, such as the increased ability to do daily activities and make longer strides when they walk. Moreover, this program might be especially helpful for those struggling with cognitive deficits or dementia since the regular repetition often helps them remember to think "BIG". LSVT provides physical and mental benefits for a variety of patients affected by Parkinson's Disease. Our clinics with this program vary, however, call the clinic nearest you to learn more about their specific Parkinson’s Disease treatment. 


Living with Parkinson's Disease can be a difficult journey for the patient, family, and caregivers. Physical therapy is a great resource for people who need help increasing strength and function. At FYZICAL, we have neurological programs designed to help patients gain independence and tackle new opportunities. With the right support system, it is possible to manage the symptoms of Parkinson’s and live a healthy and fulfilling life. To learn more about your local FYZICAL’s program for patients with Parkinson’s Disease, contact FYZICAL today.