Parkinson's Disease - Physiotherapy Management and Interventions
A person with Parkinson’s Disease may be experiencing several symptoms at the same time; your history taking and physical assessment should elicit the main issue(s) to prioritise as part of the management strategy. Whilst physiotherapy concentrates on the physical manifestations of a disorder, don’t forget to pay attention to how their other symptoms impact on the person’s lifestyle.
Remember also that optimal outcome is achieved through the collaboration with others from a team of health and social care professionals with expertise in other domains of Parkinson’s, from volunteers, family and friends.
Aims of Physiotherapy
- Maintain and improve levels of function and independence, which will help to improve a person’s quality of life
- Use exercise and movement strategies to improve mobility
- Correct and improve abnormal movement patterns and posture, where possible
- Maximize muscle strength and joint flexibility
- Correct and improve posture and balance, and minimise risks of falls
- Maintain a good breathing pattern and effective cough
- Educate the person with Parkinson’s and their carer or family members
- Enhance the effects of drug therapy
The Review version of the European Physiotherapy Guideline divides physiotherapy intervention for Parkinson’s into exercise and movement strategy training.
Increasingly being proven to maintain health and well-being in more than just Parkinson’s – exercise can address secondary prevention (focusing on strength, endurance, flexibility, functional practice and balance); exercise for neuroprotection focuses on endurance; and exercise using motor learning principles uses approaches, such as mental imagery and dual task training. Neuroprotection training, to be effective, should be introduced in the early stages. It involves complex, powerful and intensive exercises.
Exercise undertaken in a group setting has the added value of providing a social connection to those becoming increasingly isolated as the condition progresses, or for those who are newly diagnosed, so they can see the benefits of maintaining exercise and activity. A group environment also permits time for people to ask questions and discuss their symptoms and own management strategies with one another.
Physical activity, in particular, aerobic exercise might slow down the motor skill degeneration and depression. Furthermore it increases the quality of life of patients with parkinson's disease. 
Quality of life may be increased when performing strength training against an external resistance (cycle ergometer, weight machines, therapeutic putty, elastic and, weight cuffs ...). This also improves physical parameters, such as balance, gait parameters, physical performance ... but the muscle strength does not improve necessarily. 
Executing dual task, e.g. talking while walking, is commonly difficult in patients with Parkinson's disease. Training this with Motor-Cognitive Dual-Task training, improves dual-task ability and might improve gait, balance and cognition. 
Movement Strategy Training
Basal ganglia disorders cause deficits in the generation of internal (automatic) behavior.
Strategies (physical or attentional cues and combined strategies) can help overcome some of the resultant problems, hence have become an increasingly utilised method of intervention for people with Parkinson’s.
Music based movement therapy is a promising intervention that needs some further research. It is interesting since it combines cognitive movement strategies, cueing techniques, balance exercises and physical activity. The focus is on enjoying moving and not on the mobility limitation which might appeal more to the patients than standard exercises.
We can see immediately the effects of external cueing and attention on improving step length, freezing and turning during walking tasks, and in activities of daily living.
Depending on the cognitive state of the individual, they may be able to learn how to self-instruct in the use of an internal cue or strategy. If less able, the cue or strategy has to come from an external source e.g. a visual strip on the ground, the rhythmic beat of a metronome.
Depending on the stage of the condition, the rationale for intervention choices will differ:
This figure has been copied with permission of Rochester L, Nieuwboer A, Lord S .
As mentioned in the subsection on Physiotherapy for Parkinson’s: Referral and assessment, during the earlier stages of diagnosis, greater emphasis is placed on education and self-management. The individual should be encouraged to continue being active and participate in physical exercise for as long as possible. Significant respiratory complications develop in many people as their Parkinson’s progresses, so attention should be paid to monitor and manage encroaching weakness of respiratory muscles and rigidity of the thoracic cage.
The European Guideline provides a section that describes the use of motor learning (pages 78 to 80), expectations if practiced and executed as a strategy to train improvements in movement. It takes the form of cued functional and dual task training, compensatory strategy training uses external cues, self-instruction and attention. Examples include:
- Visual cueing – a focus point to step over and initiate gait; strips of tape on the floor to initiate or continue walking through areas that cause slowing or freezing
- Auditory cueing – counting 1-2-3 to initiate walking; stepping to the beat of a metronome or specific music at a specified cadence to continue the rhythm of a walk
- Attention – Thinking about taking a big step; making a wider arc turn. This is applicable in case of correcting a bad habit- such as walking with stiff hip or hip hiking.
- Proprioceptive cueing – rocking from side to side ready to initiate a step; taking one step backwards as a cue ready to then walk forwards
Most people who are diagnosed with Parkinson’s are aged 50 or over, but 1 in 20 of those diagnosed are younger than this. Those with young onset Parkinson’s are more likely to exhibit early dystonia and motor fluctuations and dyskinesias, caused by prolonged use of dopaminergic treatment.
These non-pharmalogical interventions are effective in increasing the Health-Related quality of life (HRQOL) according to Lee's meta-analysis. But since there is a big heterogenity between the interventions, more research is needed to take firm conclusions.
To deliver a patient-centered treatment, it's important to provide your patients with information and education and allow time for patients to discuss their options and ask questions. Limited clinical time may be a challenge, however, good communication and sharing information are as important as delivering an intervention.
Example of a man using visual cues to improve his walking (LoE: 5)
The phenomena of using blue tints for dyskinesia (LoE: 5)
Using GaitAid (LoE: 5)
- Parkinson's Disease
- Parkinson's Disease - Clinical Presentation
- Parkinson's Disease - Anatomy, Pathology, Prognosis and Diagnosis
- Parkinson's Disease - Physiotherapy Referral and Assessment
- Key Evidence and resources
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- National Parkinson Foundation. Ask the Helpline: Why is Exercise Important for People with Parkinson's?. Available from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7dmw4Wuhzs [last accessed 24/09/16] (LoE)
- Wu, P.L., Lee, M., & Huang, T.T. (2017). Effectiveness of physical activity on patients with depression and Parkinson's disease: a systematic review. PloS one, 12(7), eo181515. (LoE:1A)
- Ramazzina, I., Bernazzoli, B.,& Costantino, C. (2017). Systematic review on strength training in Parkinson's disease: an unsolved question. Clinical interventions in aging, 12, 619. (LoE: 1A)
- Fritz, N.E., Cheek, F.M., & Nichols-Larsen, d.S. (2015). Motor-cognitive dual-task training in neurologic disorders: a systematic review. Journal of neurologic physical therapy: JNPT, 39(3), 142. (LoE:1A)
- de Dreu, M. J., Van Der Wilk, A. S; d;, Poppe, E., Kwakkel, G., & van Wegen, E. E. (2012). Rehabilitation, exercise therapy and music in patients with Parkinson's disease: a meta-analysis of the effects of music-based movement therapy on walking ability, balance and quality of life. Parkinsonism & related disorders, 18, S114-S119. (LoE:1A)
- Rochester L, Nieuwboer A, Lord S (2011). Physiotherapy for Parkinson’s disease: Defining evidence within a framework for intervention. Neurodegen Dis Man; 1: 57 - 65 (LoE: 1A)
- Lee, J., Choi, M., & Yoo, Y. (2017). A Meta-analysis of nonpharmacological Interventions for People With Parkinson's Disease. Clinical nursing research, 26(5), 608-631. (LoE:1A)
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