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Let’s Get Educated on Parkinson’s

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a mobility disorder which progressively disrupts an individual’s ability to complete any and all tasks associated with movement.  PD worsens over time and can make simple tasks such as walking, getting dressed, and even writing a challenge. With an estimated 1 million Americans living with Parkinson’s disease (1), it’s time to get a better understanding of how PD affects this population. In this article we will discuss

  • The science behind PD
  • Exercise Options for Treatment
  • The benefits of Physical Therapy


The Science behind Parkinson’s disease

Parkinson’s disease is a complex neurologic disorder which develops as a result of decreased Dopamine production. Dopamine is a hormone found in the body which plays a large role in our body’s ability to initiate and coordinate movements (along with a host of other things). Simply put, without dopamine, our body cannot move as smoothly and efficiently as it used to. 

Patients with PD may present with uncontrollable shaking or “resting tremor”, difficulty starting and stopping movement, poor coordination, shuffling gait pattern, slouched postuure, increased risk of falling, and slowed reaction times.

Although we do not have a clear understanding of exactly what causes Parkinson’s disease, genetics and environmental factors may play a role (1). PD becomes increasingly common with age, increasing after the age of 50. While there is no cure for this disease, there are many options to help slow the disease effects and vastly improve the quality of life and independence of patients with PD.

Exercise Options for Treatment

Since Parkinson’s disease is a “movement disorder” it’s only fitting that the leading treatment options are MOVEMENT BASED! Exercise is one of the best ways to fight PD and slow the impact it has one’s mobility. While any exercise beats staying on the couch, there are a few interesting options that pack a punch (literally).

1) Join a Boxing Class: Following a 12 week boxing program, patients with PD demonstrated a significant improvement in walking speed, ability to maintain balance, and an increase in self-reported quality of life scores (2). If this interests you, the Williamsville YMCA offers a free boxing class specifically for those with Parkinson’s Disease (check it out at this link https://www.ymcabuffaloniagara.org/program-session/boxing-with-parkinsons-3/).

For something with a little more rhythm…

2) Take Dancing Lessons:  The rhythm found in music helps form a connection between the auditory system and our motor system. The connection between these two systems allow the rhythm to act as a cue for movement which can help normalize walking speed, step length, and movement initiation! (3)

Looking to amp up the intensity?

3) Try a HIIT Class: High Intensity Interval training is a form of exercise in which participant’s perform an exercise at a hard effort for a short period of time followed by a long resting period and repeated multiple times. Exercising at a higher intensity has shown to have positive effects on the brain as well as being less time consuming compared to traditional aerobic exercise making it a perfect fit for individuals with Parkinson’s disease (4).

How can Physical Therapy help?

While the fitness classes listed above are great options, some patients with PD may benefit from a more regimented, supervised, and program specifically tailored for their impairments.

Physical Therapists are well equipped to create a program based on individual needs.  For those new to exercise, beginning with physical therapy to get a better understanding of their baseline fitness, areas of strength (and weakness), and build up to the level of independent exercise.

In closing, it is important to understand that while PD is not curable, there are a host of treatment options to help positively impact the lives of those living with the disease. Finding an exercise routine which is safe, effective, and FUN is the key to living life to the fullest potential.

If you or a loved have Parkinson’s and would like to start a more regimented exercise program, Buffalo Rehab Group is offering free 20 minute consultations to get you up and moving better! Click the button below to get scheduled. 

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Combs, S. A., Diehl, D. M., Staples, W. H., Conn, L., Davis, K., Lewis, N., & Schaneman, K. (2011). Boxing training for patients with Parkinson disease: A case series. Physical Therapy,91(1), 132-142. doi:https://doi.org/10.2522/ptj.20100142

Nombela, C., Hughes, L. E., Owen, A. M., & Grahn, J. A. (2013). Into the groove: Can rhythm influence Parkinsons disease? Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews,37(10), 2564-2570. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2013.08.003


Factors associated with limited exercise capacity and feasibility of high intensity interval training in people with mild to moderate Parkinson’s disease” Bernhard Haas, Sally Cinnamond, Heather Hunter, and Jonathan Marsden International Journal of Therapy and Rehabilitation 2016 23:9, 414-422