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How to Get the Most Out of Physical Therapy for Parkinson's Disease

How to Get the Most Out of Physical Therapy for Parkinson's Disease

People who are newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease are sometimes referred to a physical therapist to help with movement and exercise. Physical therapists can help you find a path to an active lifestyle that could help with the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Dr. Ryan Duncan provides some tips to consider before your first visit to the physical therapist.

  1. Find a physical therapist with experience in Parkinson’s disease (PD)– Because PD is such an individualized disease, you will want to find a physical therapist who has experience treating people with PD. There are several ways to do this. First, you can contact your local PD association to get recommendations as they often work closely with physical therapists in the community. Second, you can visit the website of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) and use their “Find a PT” option. If you choose this route, search for a PT with a specialty in neurologic physical therapy.
  2. Be ready to talk – Before a physical evalutation, the physical therapist will likely start off asking you questions about your movement. Be ready to talk about any problems you’ve had related to walking, balance, weakness, muscle stiffness, pain, falls or other issues. Also, let the physical therapist know if you’ve been experiencing non-motor symptoms like hallucinations, depression or anxiety. Some physical therapists provide questionnaires prior to your first visit for you to fill out. This will enable your physical therapist to review them beforehand so that they can hit the ground running.
  3. Tell your physical therapist what you want to improve – Perhaps most importantly, your physical therapist should ask you about your goals and what you want to achieve through physical therapy. The physical therapist will develop both short- and long-term goals for your treatment, and your priorities should be accounted for within these goals. In the end, physical therapy is about getting you back to what you want to do and improving the way you move.
  4. Ask questions – Your physical therapist is there to help you. Just as you might write down questions you have for your neurologist, you should also do the same for your physical therapist. Answering your questions should be a priority for the physical therapist so that you can build a trusting relationship in order to achieve your goals.
  5. Timing of medication – If possible, try to time your medication dose so that you are “on” for your first visit. This will give the physical therapist an idea of how you move during your optimal state. However, if you are unable to do this, the physical therapist will still be able to gather valuable information about how you move when your medication may not be working as well.
  6. Wear comfortable clothing – Your physical therapist will have you moving frequently during your first visit. You will likely be walking and doing balance tests so that your PT can get initial measurements of how you move. These measurements will be referred to throughout your treatment so the PT can determine how well treatment is working.
  7. Be ready to work – Your hard work and dedication is integral to the success of your physical therapy treatment. You will likely see the physical therapist one to two times per week with each visit lasting 30 to 60 minutes. This means there is a substantial amount of time outside of physical therapy that can be dedicated towards being physically active and completing your own home exercise program.

Ryan Duncan, PT, DPT is Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy & Neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in Saint Louis, Missouri. He has substantial experience in the evaluation of individuals with Parkinson’s disease (PD) and treats only people with PD in the Washington University Physical Therapy Clinics. Ryan also conducts research and has published several studies examining the utility of different outcome measures in predicting falls as well as the effects of various treatments including medication, deep brain stimulation, and exercise interventions in people with PD. 

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