Physical Therapy for Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a progressive neurological condition affecting movement and general motor function. It affects millions of Americans every year and can have profound effects on daily living in social, economical, physical, mental, and emotional ways for both the patient and family. While there is no existing cure for Parksinson’s, the effects and progression can often be slowed down and blunted with physical therapy intervention.

PD is a condition in the brain that effects the dopaminergic neurons in the brain which are responsible for many functions including movement, mood, learning, and much more. A person suffering from PD can demonstrate many tell-tale signs that can often be caught by a healthcare practitioner such as a medical doctor or physical therapist. Early intervention is important for slowing down the progression of PD symptoms.

A common sign of PD is Bradykinesia which is characterized by slowed movements. Patient’s with PD will move their limbs much slower than before resulting in a shorter step length when walking. They will also not use their limbs throughout the full range of motion resulting in tightness in many muscles and poor postural patterns that can lead to further musculoskeletal injury or falls. Patients with PD will often present with a bent forward posture at the trunk, hips, and knees caused by tightness of these muscles resulting in an increased risk of falling. Another sign of PD is rigidity which is difficulty with any passive movement; patients with PD will often resist movement of the limbs and will feel very stiff, leading to difficulty helping get someone up from a chair or bed or get them into a car. Tremors are another common sign of Parkinson’s Disease however it is important to note that his symptom is not always present and a patient exhibiting any other symptoms should be referred to a medical professional for further examination.

Due to the nature of this illness balance, gait, and coordination are tremendously affected. Patients with PD are often a major fall risk which can be dangerous in an elderly population. Due to decreased step length, poor coordination, tightness and decreased motion in limbs patients with Parksinon’s may often trip over their own feet while walking and have a lot of difficulty with turning, ascending, and descending stairs. They also have difficulty responding and reacting to losses in balance such as when slipping on the floor or taking a step to prevent falling backwards. Due to the decreased movement amplitude seen with this disease patients with PD often have difficulty stepping over and clearing an object with their limbs resulting in tripping and possibly falling.

Physical therapy can significantly impact the function and daily life of a patient with PD. Firstly proper stretching technique implemented by a physical therapist can assist in maintaining and improving the range of motion and muscle tightness at many of the limbs allowing a patient to take bigger steps to maintain proper balance when walking, stepping, and turning. A physical therapist can often work on the balance strategy of a patient helping them avoid falling in different directions and properly react to losing their balance and catch themselves. Increasing movement amplitude to improve step length and gait pattern is another focus in physical therapy for patients wit PD to allow them to properly shift their weight in order to get up from a seat without falling backward or forward and normalize gait pattern to take bigger steps when walking. Physical therapy can significantly decrease fall risk in a patient with PD as well as work to increase motivation to continue to exercise and maintain functional independence.Physical Therapy

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