How Physical Therapists Help People Manage Parkinson Disease
A Patient Guide
The care team for people with Parkinson disease should include:
- Physical therapists (PTs), who focus on physical function, strength, and balance required for optimal movement at home, at work, and for leisure activities.
- Occupational therapists, who focus on everyday activities such as personal care, eating and preparing food, writing, and driving.
- Speech therapists, who focus on the voice, swallowing, and cognition.
- Movement disorder neurologists, who help people manage their disease with medicine and surgery, and work with the rehabilitation teams.
- Exercise professionals, who are community-based exercise coaches with a background in personal training or group exercise instruction.
Benefits of Physical Therapy for People with Parkinson Disease
Physical therapists tailor treatment plans to your specific needs and goals. After an evaluation, your physical therapist will work with you and other members of your care team to help you keep your strength and ability to:
- Move in and around your home or community.
- Perform everyday activities.
- Take part in exercise, sports, or other physical activities.
Your physical therapist will design a well-rounded program specific to your stage of disease and your goals to help you:
- Improve function (such as walking and balance to reduce your risk of falling, particularly for those with early to moderate disease).
- Recover lost function due to the disease or after a fall or injury.
- Maintain function over the long term.
Your physical therapy program should include a combination of the following activities:
- Aerobic exercise. This often includes cardiovascular exercises done at moderate to high intensity. Aerobic exercise is important to slow the decline in physical condition that can come with Parkinson disease.
- Resistance training. Using progressive exercise to build strength in each muscle group can reduce the severity of motor disease in people with Parkinson disease. It also can improve strength and power.
- Balance training. Standing exercises, complex walking activities, and agility training can help improve balance, gait, and mobility.
- Flexibility training. Increased flexibility will help improve your range of motion.
- Gait training. Physical therapists use specialized cueing strategies to address problems with walking. This improves walking speed, stride length, mobility, and balance.
- Task-specific training. Your physical therapist will design a program to help you improve how you do activities such as turning, standing from a chair, or rising from the floor.
Other benefits of exercise-based physical therapy that can improve quality of life include:
- Improved cognition and mood for better mental health.
- Increased physical activity through lifestyle behavior change.
Parkinson disease is a chronic, progressive condition. It is important to have regular assessments (every 6 to 12 months) to help track the disease course. This also will enable your physical therapist to make any needed adjustments to your treatment program. In between in-person physical therapist visits, some people can benefit from telehealth visits. These visits can supplement office visits and are a convenient way to check in on balance, function, and exercise training progress.
If You Have Parkinson Disease
Seek a physical therapist who has experience working with people who have Parkinson disease.
The American Physical Therapy Association provides a tool to help you find a physical therapist with specific experience and clinical expertise:
To locate a physical therapist near you, visit Find a PT, and under Practice Focus, type or select “geriatrics” or “neurology”
- 800-4PD-INFO (800-473-4636)
American Parkinson Disease Association
Brian Grant Foundation
Davis Phinney Foundation
Michael J. Fox Foundation