The Benefits of Physical Therapy for People With Parkinson’s

I recently gave a talk for the APDA annual symposium, Midwest Chapter. It explains the physical therapy evaluation process and how physical  therapy can help individuals with Parkinson’s. There are still many people with Parkinson’s who have never been to physical therapy and many others who only start seeing a physical therapist once there are balance problems. Being informed and proactive can impact how well you live and substantially reduce stress. This video offers practical tips and guidance. Click on picture below to view.




Get Started With a Walking Program – Your Health Depends On It

Walking Program

Getting started

  • Get a baseline – How long can you walk before you need to rest? Also, if you have a pedometer – how many steps do you take during the day?
  • Problems with balance or arthritis?  You may need a walking device to help you to walk safer and with less pain. Consult your physical therapist.
  • History of cardiac problems, low blood pressure or diabetes? Consult with your doctor and/or physical therapist. We want you to be successful!

Which category do you fit into? (Don’t let these numbers discourage you! You should try to compete with yourself AND use a pedometer that really counts every step!)

  • Sedentary Lifestyle – < 5,000 steps/day
  • Low Active – between 5,000 to 7,499 steps/day (typical of daily activity excluding sports/exercise)
  • Somewhat Active – 7,500 to 9,999 steps/day
  • Active – > 10,000 steps/day
  • Highly Active – > 12,500 steps/day

Norms – Steps by age:

  • Younger than 65 years old – between 8,899 to 9,996 steps/day
  • > 65 years old – between 6,565 to 8,233 steps/day

Walking recommendations

  •  Start walking more than your baseline but perform to your tolerance. Do this daily.
  • Build up gradually with your walking time, steps and intensity
  • Goal: 30 minutes of walking most days of the week at increments not less than 10 minutes
  • Use a walking device if needed for balance or pain to allow you to walk more 


  • Pedometers are motivational to increase walking steps/day. This can result in improved walking speeds and stamina. You can track progress.
  • To find information on pedometers go to this website:

Bohannon, R. W. (2007). “Number of pedometer-assessed steps taken per day by adults: a descriptive meta-analysis.” Phys Ther 87(12): 1642-50.

Bravata, D. M., C. Smith-Spangler, et al. (2007). “Using pedometers to increase physical activity and improve health: a systematic review.” JAMA 298(19): 2296-304.

Ellis, T., N. K. Latham, et al. “Feasibility of a virtual exercise coach to promote walking in community-dwelling persons with Parkinson disease.” Am J Phys Med Rehabil 92(6): 472-81; quiz 482-5.

Nelson, M. E., W. J. Rejeski, et al. (2007). “Physical activity and public health in older adults: recommendation from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association.” Circulation 116(9): 1094-105.

Tudor-Locke, C. and D. R. Bassett, Jr. (2004). “How many steps/day are enough? Preliminary pedometer indices for public health.” Sports Med 34(1): 1-8.

Walking App for people with Parkinson’s (Not yet available, currently being investigated)

Currently in Canada there is a study which is investigating a potential App which plays music to encourage a person with Parkinson’s to take bigger steps. This is how the app is intended to work. If a person is walking with smaller steps there is no music. But, if the person starts taking bigger steps the music starts to play.  In other words, positive reinforcement for longer steps instead of negative reinforcement for shorter steps. I hope this technology to be available some day for people with Parkinson’s. Walking to music has shown to improve rhythmicity of gait, reduce freezing, be motivational. Music bypasses the basal ganglia using alternate pathways for normalization of movement in people with Parkinson’s. See the clip below.


I am always in search of rollators which will fit the needs of my patients. (A rollator is a ‘walker’ with 4 wheels, seat and handbrakes). Recently I attended an ‘Ability Fair’  which featured items that can help people live more independently. Included in this fair were rollators.  A particular rollator caught my eye and is called the ‘Gemino 30′.  There is a website called ‘Elderluxe’ which showcases many quality walkers AND the Gemino. Click on this link: This walker is made in Germany and has won awards for its design.

When buying a rollator, the approximate size  should NOT be determined by your height. Instead, the proper way to determine the proper size is to measure the distance from your wrist to the floor. Try to match that distance to the handle height. The handle height information is typically found in the ‘specs’ section. If possible, pick a rollator which has the capability of adjusting above and below your (wrist to floor) measurement for fine tuning. Establishing the best walker/rollator for your needs is best performed with the guidance of a physical therapist who is familiar with Parkinson’s. For some individuals a rollator may not be safe for various reasons and a physical therapist can help guide you.

Pedometers and physical activity

(click on the title ‘Pedometers and physical activity to see full posting)

Pedometers have been commercially available since the 1980′s and have been a source of motivation to increase steps/day for health benefits such as reducing blood pressure, improving insulin sensitivity, osteoporosis and depression. There is mounting evidence regarding the benefits of exercise to control Parkinson’s symptoms and lack of exercise can worsen Parkinson’s symptoms. It is often difficult to motivate individuals to be more active but a pedometer has shown to be one effective tool.

Initially, when someone hears they must walk 10,000 steps/day, it can make them give up before even starting. I tried to walk 10,000 steps with an inexpensive pedometer and had great difficulty attaining that goal. Positioning the pedometer just right so that every step is counted is a common problem which I have observed and personally experienced. Often, the first few steps are not counted.

There is a new generation of  pedometers which seem to count EVERY step and the placement is not critical. In fact you can just throw it in your pocket, clip it to any part of your clothing at any angle or wear a wrist bracelet. I recently purchased a ‘fitbit‘  which monitors your activity (steps, stairs and calories burned) which can be wirelessly downloaded to a computer or app and graphed so you can follow your progress effortlessly. It resets on it’s own everyday and needs to be recharged on a weekly basis for a brief period. You can find the ‘Fitbit’ on Amazon however there are also other companies which manufacture similar devices such as Nike and Jawbone. Looking at the reviews on Amazon, the Fitbit is showing the best rating.

Below are some guidelines to compare your steps/day and level of physical activity with healthy adults:

‘Sedentary lifestyle’ = less than 5000 steps/day

‘low active’ = 5000 to 7499 steps/day

‘somewhat active’ = 7500 to 9999 steps/day

‘active’ = 10,000 or more steps/day

‘highly active’ = greater than 12,500 steps/day


Bravata, D. M., C. Smith-Spangler, et al. (2007). “Using pedometers to increase physical activity and improve health: a systematic review.” JAMA 298(19): 2296-304.

Kenyon, A., M. McEvoy, et al. “Validity of pedometers in people with physical disabilities: a systematic review.” Arch Phys Med Rehabil 94(6): 1161-70.

Bohannon, R. W. (2007). “Number of pedometer-assessed steps taken per day by adults: a descriptive meta-analysis.” Phys Ther 87(12): 1642-50.

Tudor-Locke, C. and D. R. Bassett, Jr. (2004). “How many steps/day are enough? Preliminary pedometer indices for public health.” Sports Med 34(1): 1-8.


Clinical trials for people with Parkinson’s

There are many resources available to people with Parkinson’s (PwP) who want to participate in clinical trials. These trials are necessary to establish safety and efficacy of medicinal or physical interventions. Trying to match clinical trials with participants can be tricky since there are certain criteria which need to be met to be deemed an appropriate candidate. From the perspective of the willing participant, location and convenience is typically important or necessary. In attempt to facilitate this process, the Michael J Fox foundation has developed a very user friendly website to help match the participants with the trials. Their web site is 

Other websites regarding clinical trials for PwP are:


New Parkinson’s Book

Available on Amazon





I am excited to announce my newly published book, ” How To Live Well With Parkinson’s: Advice From a Physical Therapist”. It is intended for the person who has Parkinson’s and their Caregiver. Physical therapists can also benefit from this book since it is filled with interventions specific for this population. There are over 200 illustrations. Click on book cover to see more details on Amazon. Table of Contents below.

Chapter 1  “I have PD – Now Who is in Charge of What?”

Chapter 2  Exercising With Purpose

Chapter 3  The Bed Challenge – Is it You or the Bed (or both)?

Chapter 4  Chairs – Sitting is the Easy Part.

Chapter 5  Walking Problems and Remedies

Chapter 6 Walkers/Rollators: Choosing and Using Them

Chapter 7 Balancing Act – Tips On Staying Balanced

Chapter 8 Caregivers Corner

Appendix – Helpful devices

Benefits of Physical Therapy for Parkinson’s

As a physical therapist, I am always searching for ways to ensure my patients receive the most effective interventions which are targeting their individual needs. A recent research article published in 2012 discusses benefits from various interventions:  ‘Physiotherapy Intervention in Parkinson’s disease: systematic review and meta-analysis’ (click on the title, once you are on the website  you can download the full article for free). This type of research article can save clinicians time since it reviews a number of relevent research studies and synthesizes outcomes. Categories of interventions were: physiotherapy (gait and balance, hands-on techniques and education regarding body mechanics with transfers, posture and physical fitness), exercise, treadmill, cueing, dance (tango, waltz and foxtrot) and martial arts (tai chi,qigong).  Listed are outcomes established from these various interventions:

1) Improved gait velocity (increased stride length)

2) No change in cadence (cadence tends to be preserved in people with Parkinson’s (PwP))

3) No change in balance confidence (Activity Specific Balance Confidence Scale – ABC; Falls Efficacy Scale)

4) Fall reduction

5) Significant improvements in the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS) – subscore for activities of daily living

6) No change in the mobility section of the Parkinson’s Disease Quality of Life Questionnaire (PDQ-39)

7) There was no difference reported between type of physical therapy intervention and outcome.

As you can see, there are a  variety of interventions to accommodate a wide spectrum of motor problems experienced by PwP. It is important to recognize the individual needs of PwP and apply interventions accordingly. It has been my experience that unless we educate our patients to continue to practice what was learning in therapy including staying active and exercising/walking, benefits will be lost.


Dual tasking and Parkinson’s

Dual tasking is doing more than one thing at a time. People with Parkinson’s (PwP) often have greater difficulty doing 2 things at the same time. This is in part due to the increased concentration required to perform activities. Disruptions with walking when dual tasking is often used as an example due to potential fall risk involved.

Over the years I have focused interventions on redirecting primary focus on gait with less attention to the secondary task. Patient education regarding increased attention demands on gait helps the individual understand the need for redirected focus. Also, educating PwP to place balance as a priority over the task at hand can be helpful for self-management with balance control. Conditioning exercises and gait training utilizing compensatory strategies to maximize stride length can prepare individuals when there are more distractions. I have found benefits in this comprehensive approach.

Only occasionally have I attempted dual task training with individuals with mild PD : walking + cognitive task or walking + manual or walking + manual + cognitive. I have observed either short term or no improvements but have to admit that perhaps not enough time was spent on these activities (4 sessions for 30 minutes).

I have often wondered if I should work more on dual tasking to prepare an individual for the real world but have felt it would require an inordinate number of treatment sessions to become successful. Dual tasking, I find also requires an individual to have the capability or capacity to learn to filter distractions. So, would exposing an individual to numerous distractions help to desensitize and improve focus in dual tasking conditions? If this is so, I would think community Parkinson’s classes could help an individual in this area more economically. Community classes can be ongoing and definitely distracting! Two community based exercise programs which come to mind which specialize in PD and comprehensively address the needs of PwP are:

1. The PWR (Parkinson’s Wellness Recovery) Exercise classes – founded by Becky Farley PT, PhD . Dr Farley is currently doing work in dual task function in early PD.

2. Delay the Disease

It appears there are various sources which are currently investigating interventions and outcomes in the area of dual tasking. I look forward to the completion of these studies!

Outcome measures

Recently discovered a website which has a comprehensive listing of tests to measure the status of our patients. It shows the name of the test, how long it takes to perform a particular test, diagnoses appropriate for a particular test. It links you to the instructions of the test and any useful information you need to know. I have added the link to this website for physical therapists. click on outcome measures. Or, you can click here. It also has definitions of statistical terms – bonus!