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Parkinson's Disease and the Benefits of Physical Therapy

By: Amy Keating PT, MSPT

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a progressive movement disorder that affects balance, posture, coordination, and voluntary movement patterns.  There are non-motor symptoms of PD that may include pain, fatigue, mood changes, and cognitive impairment. 

What is the incidence of PD in the USA?

  • 1,000,000 people in the US are currently living with PD. 90,000 people in the US are diagnosed annually.                

  • PD is the 2nd most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s.

  • Men are 1.5 times more likely than women to be diagnosed with PD.               

  • Increased incidence with ages 65+ - only 4% are diagnosed before age 50.

What part of the brain is affected in PD?

When nerve cells that control voluntary movement become impaired or die the body loses the ability to produce adequate amounts of the chemical knowns as dopamine.  Reduced dopamine amounts result in the inability to transmit signals to correctly coordinate voluntary movement patterns.

Does physical therapy benefit people living with PD?


There is strong evidence to support physical therapy intervention in those living with PD.  Specific physical therapy interventions that have the potential to improve functional outcomes and quality of life include: aerobic exercise, resistance training, balance and posture training, gait training, community-based exercise and external cueing. 

PD can cause: a weakened and deconditioned muscular system, reduced size and speed of movements, impaired balance, poor alternating patterns of movement.  Physical therapists (PT’s) are movement experts that can prescribe proper exercises that will improve strength, balance, and mobility in clients with PD.   Physical therapists can teach over exaggerated movements to address the reduced size and speed of movements. Reciprocal movement patterns are side to side and right to/from left patterns.  An example of this occurs when arms swing while walking.  Physical therapists can help to reinforce alternating patterns by working on walking with verbal cues to increase arm swing or use of an elliptical machine.  Dancing and Tai chi are also activities that require reciprocal patterns of movement. 


The physical therapists at A Step Ahead Physical Therapy can address the impairments associated with Parkinson’s disease to maximize function for as long as possible. If you or someone you know has Parkinson’s disease, please contact our clinic to schedule your appointment with one of our physical therapists. 

You can call us at 770-998-6636, or book online through our website at:


Links for general information about PD:


Amy joined A Step Ahead Physical Therapy in 2014 and has been a physical therapist since 2006. Amy has worked in subacute rehabilitation, assisted and independent senior living communities (including memory care) and in outpatient rehabilitation. She has taken courses in neurological rehabilitation, kinesiology taping, orthopedics, functional mobility, geriatrics, total joint replacement, balance disorders and vestibular rehabilitation.


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