Physical Therapy is an Essential Part of PD Treatment



There is often some confusion among people with Parkinson's disease as to the differences between exercise groups and physical therapy. Exercise groups may be led by an exercise physiologist, fitness trainer, recreation therapist or physical therapist. The goal of these groups is to improve general conditioning, flexibility and strength. Exercise groups are also a great place for patients to interact with others facing similar physical, psychological and social issues. These groups don't require a physician's order, but patients should get their physician's approval prior to beginning any exercise program.

In contrast, PT requires a physician's order and consists of an evaluation of a patient's strength, joint mobility, flexibility, gait and functional mobility (that is, ability to roll, get out of bed or a chair, get in/out of a car) by a licensed physical therapist with specific goals established and a treatment plan focused on attaining these goals. Functional mobility is often limited in people with PD, especially for tasks such as walking, getting out of a chair, or even rolling in bed. This limited mobility is due in part to the disease process itself and to the secondary impairments from the disease, such as loss of flexibility, decreased endurance and poor posture. Several studies published in the past decade have shown that physical therapy intervention, focused on these impairments, can improve the functional mobility of people with PD.

Just as it is important to find a neurologist who is skilled in treating Parkinson's disease, so too is it important to find a physical therapist who is familiar with and skilled in treating people with PD. This can be done by requesting a recommended therapist or therapy clinic from your neurologist, calling your local American Parkinson Disease Association Information and Referral Center, or asking others in your support group if they have recommendations.

If none of these options is available to you, call your local hospital and therapy clinics and inquire if they have a therapist skilled in treating neurological diseases such as PD. Ask the therapist who is recommended if they have attended continuing education courses for treating neurological disorders and how many PD patients they have worked with in the past year. Physical therapy is covered by most insurance companies, either partially or completely. However, some insurance plans limit the number of sessions available and may require a small copayment for each visit. Understand and verify your insurance plan prior to beginning any physical therapy visits. If you are unsure of your medical benefits, review your member benefits package or call the member benefits phone number listed on the back of your insurance card. If you think you, a family member or a friend could benefit from physical therapy, please contact your physician.

Physical therapy   just like current PD medication   is not a cure for Parkinson's disease. But people with PD can take an active role in controlling their disease by continuing to exercise and participating in physical therapy to improve their functional mobility.

Adapted with permission from an article in the APDA Parkinson Quarterly, (Summer 2000)


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