Parkinson’s Disease — What is it? How can physical therapy help?
By Morgan Mowers, PT, DPT, FAFS
Parkinson’s Disease is a neurodegenerative disease of the central nervous system. It is typically caused by a decrease in neurons in a portion of the brain called substantia nigra, which results in insufficient dopamine production and action. This causes abnormal brain activity.
Common symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease include:
- flat affect (lack of facial emotion)
- resting hand or leg tremors
- shuffling walking pattern with decreased arm swing
- slow body movements
- postural changes
- impaired balance
- changes in speech
Physical therapy can improve symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease and even reverse some of the brain changes which occurred due to the disease. Treatment for Parkinson’s Disease includes exaggerated movements in order to increase the amplitude of movements, reducing the tendency to shuffle while walking. It also focuses on reciprocal movement, or alternating arms and legs with each step. This improves balance and coordination, decreasing the risk of falls. Above all else, physical therapy focuses on improving mobility and strength in patients with Parkinson’s Disease, which prevents atrophy and increases the ability to live an active life.