Physical Medicine

People with chronic conditions like early onset Parkinson's disease often find physical medicine can improve strength and flexibility, and decrease pain and stiffness. It’s part of an array of PD treatments.

Physical Therapy for Parkinson's Disease

Most of us are referred to a physical therapist at one time or another. Whether you are experiencing disability as a result of pain, injury, or illness, physical therapists provide physical therapeutic intervention (as opposed to medical or surgical intervention) with the goal of preventing or minimizing disability.

As we learn more about how beneficial exercise is to people with Parkinson's disease, physical therapy is becoming an essential part of many treatment plans.  A physical therapist can help you develop an exercise routine that is right for you.  Physical therapy can also help address certain symptoms of PD such as dystonia, freezing and gait. If possible, it is best to see a physical therapist who has experience treating people with Parkinson's.  Some physical therapists become Board-certified as a Neurologic Specialist (NCS).  You can find a physical therapist near you by contacting the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), the APDA Rehab Resource Center or by asking your physician or movement disorders clinic for a referral.

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Occupational Therapy for Early Onset Parkinson's

Occupational therapists are similar to physical therapists, but they focus on more specific goals related to functioning. In other words, occupational therapist help us "function" (i.e., accomplish the tasks of daily living) to the best of our ability. For people with early onset Parkinson's disease, routine tasks such as walking, running, standing up from a chair or moving into and out of bed can become difficult; occupational therapists are trained to evaluate these kinds of difficulties and help the person and/or the environment adapt as needs and abilities change.

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Parkinson's Speech Therapy

Most of us, when we think of Parkinson's disease, think of symptoms such as tremor and slowness of movement. Perhaps less well known are the speech, swallowing, and communication difficulties many people with early onset Parkinson's experience. 

Speech, for example, may be less loud or less clear. People with Parkinson's sometimes do not even realize their speech has changed, but may notice that others are asking them to repeat themselves much more frequently than in the past. Non-verbal communication can be affected as well. Referred to as "facial masking," people with PD may find that they are less able to move their facial muscles which can compromise their ability to communicate effectively with others. This can be a very frustrating symptom because you may look uninterested, even angry, when you are not.   

Swallowing can also become difficult because the muscles that help perform this activity can experience tremor, stiffness, and slowness just as the other parts of the body do. Difficulty swallowing can lead to serious problems such as malnutrition, so attending to it is important (see Eat Right).   

Speech and Language pathologists (SLPs) are trained to evaluate and treat these very difficulties. An SLP can help by developing a program to help you stretch and strengthen the muscles involved in speech, expression, and/or swallowing or by teaching coping strategies that will make communication or swallowing easier.   

Some SLPs have been trained in a technique called Lee Silverman Voice Treatment® (LSVT), a speech and voice therapy that was developed specifically for people with Parkinson's disease. The LSVT®LOUD program can make a difference in quality of life for people with Parkinson's. It is an intensive program, one that involves 16 sessions during a one-month period, so it may be helpful to think ahead and schedule this type of therapy when you are able to devote the time and energy necessary to achieve the maximum benefit. To find out more about LSVT or to find an SLP who is trained in the technique, visit www.lsvtglobal.com.    

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