Physical Therapy and Pathology: Parkinson’s Disease

Did you know that according to the Parkinson’s Foundation:

  • Nearly one million Americans are living with Parkinson’s disease (PD), which is more than the combined number of people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and Lou Gehrig’s disease (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis).
  • Approximately 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with PD each year.
  • More than 10 million people worldwide are living with PD.
  • Incidence of Parkinson’s disease increases with age, but an estimated four percent of people with PD are diagnosed before age 50.
  • Men are 1.5 times more likely to have Parkinson’s disease than women.
  • The combined direct and indirect cost of Parkinson’s, including treatment, social security payments and lost income, is estimated to be nearly $52 billion per year in the United States alone.

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease (PD) was first described by Dr. James Parkinson in 1817 as a “shaking palsy.” It is a chronic, progressive neurodegenerative disease characterized by both motor and non-motor features. Parkinson’s is caused by a decrease in dopamine production in the brain. The decrease of this important neurotransmitter effects movement, cognition and even cognition.

People with PD may experience:

  • Tremor- mainly at rest and described as pill rolling tremor in hands. 
  • Bradykinesia- slowness of movement
  • Limb rigidity
  • Walking and balance problems

The cause remains largely unknown. Although there is no cure, treatment options vary from medications to surgery. Parkinson’s itself is not fatal, but disease complications can be serious. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) rated complications from PD as the 14th cause of death in the United States.

Here are 10 early signs of PD:

Patient with a resting tremor © Alona Siniehina |

  1. Tremors
  2. Small handwriting 
  3. Loss of smell
  4. Trouble sleeping
  5. Trouble moving or walking 
  6. Constipation 
  7. A soft or low voice
  8. Lack of facial expression
  9. Dizziness or fainting 
  10. Stooping or hunching over

You’ve been diagnosed with Parkinson’s… What now?

  • Work with your doctor to create a plan to stay healthy. This might include the following:
    • A referral to a neurologist, a doctor who specializes in the brain
    • Care from an occupational therapist, physical therapist or speech therapist
    • Meeting with a medical social worker to talk about how Parkinson’s will affect your life
  • Start a regular exercise program to delay further symptoms.
  • Talk with family and friends who can provide you with the support you need.

What can your physical therapist do for you?

Although physical therapy treatments are helpful in all stages of RD, recent research suggests that physical therapy, including gait and balance training, resistance training and regular exercise, may help improve or hold the symptoms of PD. 

According to the Parkinson’s Outcomes Project, the largest clinical study of Parkinson’s disease through our Centers of Excellence network, increasing physical activity to at least 2.5 hours a week can slow decline in quality of life.

© Inside Creative House |

A physical therapist can provide:

  • Education and self-management advice
  • Exercise routines that have been associated with improvements (or slower declines) in mobility, quality of life and disease severity
  • Answers to questions about the type, intensity, frequency or duration of exercise that is best for you
  • Ways to maintain safety when exercising
  • Help with:
    • Normal physical activity routine
    • Walking: slowness, small steps, or freezing (feeling glued to the floor or difficulty getting started)
    • Balance or stability
    • Posture
    • Pain
    • Moving around the house (getting up from a chair, moving around in bed)
    • Getting around (in/out of a car or bus, elevators, stairs and uneven ground)
  • Address fear of falling, past falls or worries about safety.
  • Other health problems that affect mobility, including joint or muscle pain from arthritis, problems with endurance due to a heart or lung condition, a broken bone or surgery

Contact Us!

Check out this link to learn more about our pathology series. If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and you’d like to learn more about how physical therapy can help, give us a call today! New Jersey has direct access which means you can come see us without seeing your doctor! We can see you quicker than you could get in to see the doctor, while also saving you both time and money!  

Please, call us to schedule your evaluation at one of BeneFIT’s locations, Bridgewater (908.203.5200) or Chester 

(908.879.5700)  with one of our highly trained Doctors of Physical Therapy!



DeMaagd, G., & Philip, A. (2015). Parkinson’s Disease and Its Management: Part 1: Disease Entity, Risk Factors, Pathophysiology, Clinical Presentation, and Diagnosis. P & T : a peer-reviewed journal for formulary management40(8), 504–532.