The Role of Physical Therapy in the Management of Parkinson’s Disease

The Role of Physical Therapy in the Management of Parkinson’s Disease

Canada has some of the highest rates of Parkinson’s Disease globally, and they are on the rise. Perhaps you or someone you know – a close friend or loved one, is currently navigating a Parkinson’s diagnosis. A diagnosis can feel overwhelming. There is a huge onslaught of new information to process, while at the same time needing to learn how to adapt life to manage symptoms. 

We here at Vangool Wellness are here to help. All our physiotherapist practitioners have been certified through Parkinson Canada to provide care for individuals with a Parkinson’s diagnosis. 

So, what can physical therapy do to help? 

The management of Parkinson’s Disease is truly interdisciplinary – the team may include any combination of a physical therapist, doctor, PD specialist, pharmacist, or other health care professional. Being movement experts, physical therapists play an important role in:

  • Managing the physical symptoms associated with Parkinson’s Disease
  • Supporting exercise engagement – a first-line treatment for slowing disease progression 
  • Improving quality of life and emotional well-being

If you or a loved one is currently living with a Parkinson’s diagnosis, our rehabilitation team here at Vangool Wellness would be happy to support you along your journey. Contact us here for more information or to book an assessment.

Understanding Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinsons Disease [PD] is a lifelong progressive neurological disease that affects an area of our brain that produces dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter involved in the regulation of our emotions, motivation, and coordinating movement in our bodies. As the disease progresses, we have less dopamine available in our brains which leads to greater difficulty with motor tasks as well as emotional regulation over time. 

Parkinson’s Disease falls under the umbrella of Parkinsonism, which refers to brain conditions that cause movement-related effects in the body as described above. Other Parkinsonism conditions you may have heard of include Lewy Body Dementia or Multiple System Atrophy. Parkinson’s Disease is the most common of these brain conditions however, accounting for around 80%. 

 There are currently no diagnostic tests available (bloodwork, scans, etc.) to detect and diagnose PD. Because of this, early detection is rare and by the time a clinical diagnosis is made, changes in the brain have already occurred and symptoms are likely to be showing. In order to make a clinical diagnosis, an individual must present with 2 of the first 3 listed motor symptoms: 

  • Tremor: shaking/trembling movements in the body, most commonly in the hands at rest
  • Rigidity: stiffness/tightness in muscles, inability to relax them
  • Akinesia/Bradykinesia: slowness of movement
  • Postural Instability: stooped posture, balance impairments, occurs later in PD

A common acronym used to remember the motor symptoms of PD is TRAP. Beyond the motor symptoms, there are a range of other impacts PD has on health that might not be visible and can vary between individuals. These can include speech difficulties, loss of taste/smell, depression & anxiety, apathy, gait changes, difficulty with decision making, bladder impacts, facial masking, and sleep difficulties to name a few. This highlights the importance to treat Parkinson’s Disease through a biopsychosocial lens, with care addressing the physical, emotional, and social aspects of our lives. 

Who Does PD Affect? 

Parkinson’s Disease is most commonly seen later in life, with a majority of cases occurring beyond 60 years of age. There are however a small number of juvenile PD cases that occur. PD is slightly more common in those assigned male at birth than in those assigned female at birth. 

Management of Parkinson’s Disease

Treatment for Parkinson’s Disease will generally include medication, possibly surgery, and as mentioned earlier, exercise. With exercise being a first-line treatment for slowing the progression of Parkinson’s Disease, it is important to establish an exercise routine early on in the diagnosis. That’s where we come in. Physiotherapists have the capacity to support physical engagement in PD with a thorough physical assessment, individualized programming, emotional support, and recommendations of appropriate equipment or environmental modifications as the disease progresses. 

In addition to exercise and physical activity helping to maintain/improve our mobility, balance, and flexibility, it also eases non-motor symptoms like depression & anxiety and disrupted sleep.  But what type of exercise should be completed?

Exercise programs for those with Parkinson’s Disease should include the following key components: 

  • Aerobic activity
  • Strength Training
  • Balance, Agility, and Multitasking
  • Flexibility  

Physiotherapy Treatment

At Vangool Wellness we have a variety of treatment options available for those with a Parkinson’s Diagnosis which could include individual physiotherapy assessments & treatments (mobile care available), group or individual Physio-Yoga, and Chair Yoga. Each of these options can help with supporting exercise engagement from a whole-person approach. Feel free to call in for a 15 minute free phone consultation if you have any questions regarding treatment options. 

Individual Assessment: includes a thorough history taking to understand all aspects of the diagnosis from the client perspective, followed by a physical assessment to determine which education and treatment approach is best suited to you.

Physio-Yoga: either individual or class-based with a focus on assessing/treating PD through the lens of yoga-therapy which incorporates elements of strength, balance, and flexibility. Individual modifications provided throughout the class.

Related reading: What is Physio-Yoga

Chair Yoga: appropriate for all stages of PD including advanced stages where modifications can help allow for participation in a full body flow with components of strength, mobility, and balance incorporated throughout. Individual modifications provided throughout the class.

Conclusion

Parkinson’s Disease affects many individuals globally and can have a significant impact on quality of life. With research showing that exercise is one of the best treatment options to improve quality of life from both a physical & emotional lens, it is important to initiate an exercise routine early on and consistently throughout the diagnosis. 

It can be hard to know how to implement exercise, and you shouldn’t have to go about that process alone. Physiotherapists are experts in movement disorders and have the training and knowledge to promote safe and effective physical activity for those with Parkinson’s Disease. 

If you or a loved one is navigating a Parkinson’s diagnosis, we can help. Book in for an assessment here, or call the clinic at 306.242.9355 for more information.