Parkinson's - Physiotherapy Management and Interventions

Introduction[edit | edit source]

A person with Parkinson’s 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. While physiotherapy concentrates on the physical manifestations of a disorder, it is also important to pay attention to how other symptoms impact upon the person’s lifestyle.

Personalised management of Parkinson's disease allows to address unique goals of an individual as the clinical presentation vary from person to person and may include motor, and non-motor symptoms.[1]

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 to family and friends.

Aims of Physiotherapy[edit | edit source]

  • 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
  • Maximise 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 care-giver or family members
  • Enhance the effects of drug therapy

Physiotherapy Intervention[edit | edit source]

The Review version of the European Physiotherapy Guideline divides physiotherapy intervention for Parkinson’s into exercise and movement strategy training.

Exercise[edit | edit source]

Exercise has been proven to maintain health and well-being in Parkinson’s, and now importantly it is shown to play a big role in addressing secondary prevention (focusing on strength, endurance, flexibility, functional practice and balance). Exercise for neuroprotection focuses on endurance and uses motor learning principles approaches, such as mental imagery and dual task training. Neuroprotection training, to be effective, should be introduced in the early stages but helps at all 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, and those who are newly diagnosed are able to observe 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.

Transition Care setting[2] improves the independence and functioning of the patients in order to delay their entry into residential aged care. It also provides time-limited, goal-oriented and therapy-focused packages of services to older people after a hospital stay, which includes low-intensity therapy—such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy—social work and nursing support or personal care. A qualitative research study[3] suggests better outcomes in older patients (above 80yrs) with family participation to assist physiotherapy care in a transition care setting.

The following video briefly explains why exercises are important for patients with Parkinson's disease. According to the presenter, exercises help to build muscle strength, improve flexibility, and allow to learn new skill that is very beneficial for the body and the mind.


Physical activity, in particular aerobic exercise, might slow down the motor skill degeneration and depression that occurs in Parkinson's Disease. Furthermore, it increases the quality of life of patients with Parkinson's.[5] A randomised controlled trial showed favourable outcomes with exercise and horticultural intervention programs for older adults with depression and memory problems[6].

A randomised controlled clinical trial protocol to evaluate the effect of inspiratory muscle training on respiratory function in patients with mild-to-moderate Parkinson's suggests that inspiratory muscle training improves respiratory muscle strength, lung function, thoracic mobility and functional capacity.[7] Similarly, a systematic review of research on the application of Respiratory Muscle Strength Training to Parkinson's Disease rehabilitation found that respiratory muscle training is a useful therapy for managing decreased respiratory muscles, dysphagia, ineffective coughing, speech disorders, and cardiorespiratory dysfunction in people with Parkinson's, with prolonged positive impact on respiratory muscle strength, swallowing function, and cardiovascular autonomic function.[8]

Quality of life may be increased when performing strength training against an external resistance. Examples of such resistance exercises include: cycle ergometer, weight machines, therapeutic putty, elastic and, weight cuffs. Strength training can also improve physical parameters such as balance, gait, and physical performance. [9]

Executing a dual task (e.g. talking while walking) is often difficult in patients with Parkinson's. Training with motor-cognitive dual-task training improves dual-task ability and might improve gait, balance and cognition. [10]A 2021 study found that dual task training can improve gait performance, most notably increasing gait velocity, step length, and decreased freezing of gait in elderly patients. This study also found dual task training improved the physical well-being of the study participants.[11]

A recent research study found out progressive resistance training (PRT) to be effective in decreasing bradykinesia and improving functional performance in patients with mild-to-moderate Parkinson's Disease (PD)[12]. A 2022 meta-analysis found that progressive resistance training in persons with Parkinson's improved freezing of gait, increased muscle strength and improved reported quality of life during rehabilitation.[13]

Movement Strategy Training[edit | edit source]

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.[14]A 2021 systematic review and meta-analysis found that music-based movement therapy can significantly improve motor function, balance, freezing of gait, walking velocity, and overall mental health as measured by standarised tests. The review did not show music-based movement therapy having a measurable effect on gait cadence, stride length, or quality of life in persons with Parkinson's.[15]

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. A Systematic Review and Meta-Analyses suggests better outcomes with short-term physiotherapy on the symptoms of freezing of gait in Parkison's patient. However, further randomized control trial studies are still needed[16]. Literature suggests that robot-assisted gait technology has better results in addressing the freezing of gait for Parkinson's patients. However, more research is needed in this field[17].

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:

Parkinsons Interventions Chart.png

This figure has been copied with permission of Rochester L, Nieuwboer A, Lord S [18].

As mentioned in the subsection on Physiotherapy for Parkinson’s: referral and assessmentduring 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

A Systematic Review of thirty-five studies by Delgado-Alvarado M et al. emphasizes the benefit of non-pharmacological and nonsurgical treatments for freezing of gait symptoms. The study results suggest passive therapies (transcranial magnetic stimulation or transcranial direct current stimulation), active therapies (cognitive or physical training), and the transient effect therapies (using visual, auditory, or proprioceptive cues to shift the patient's habitual movements to a goal-directed one) help to overcome the freezing of gait episode[19].

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 of 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.[20]

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.

Complimentary Technology[edit | edit source]

Using virtual reality in rehabilitation has positive outcomes on balance, co-ordination and gait speed in Parkinson's patients[21]

Example of a man using visual cues to improve his walking.


The phenomena of using blue tints for dyskinesia


Using GaitAid


Examples of using Big and Loud exercise strategies, dancing, general active range of motion exercises, including breathing exercises, Pilates and U-Step walker for ambulation.

  • The goal of the LSVT-BIG training is to overcome small movement amplitudes to normalise motor function. It is an amplitude-based behavioural intervention focused on improving speed-amplitude relations in the upper and lower limbs movements.[25]
  • A growing body or research shows positive benefits of dance for people with PD in both motor and non-motor areas.[26]
  • Pilates have a positive impact on fitness, balance and physical function, especially in their lower limbs. [27]
  • Breathing exercise added to general exercise program for patients with Parkinson's disease can have a positive impact on patients' chest amplitude, lung expansion and the ability to produce an effective cough.[28]

Related pages[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Bloem BR, Okun MS, Klein C. Parkinson's Disease. The Lancet 2021;397(10291):2284-2303.
  2. Transition Care Programme. Aging and aged care. Accessed from ☀ on 4\12\19
  3. Lawler K, Taylor NF, Shields N. Family-assisted therapy empowered families of older people transitioning from hospital to the community: a qualitative study. Journal of physiotherapy. 2019 Jun 13.
  4. National Parkinson Foundation. Ask the Helpline: Why is Exercise Important for People with Parkinson's?. Available from: [last accessed 24/09/16] (LoE)
  5. Wu, P.L., Lee, M., & Huang, T.T. Effectiveness of physical activity on patients with depression and Parkinson's: a systematic review. PloS one, 2017:12(7), eo181515.
  6. Makizako H, Tsutsumimoto K, Makino K, Nakakubo S, Liu-Ambrose T, Shimada H. Exercise and Horticultural Programs for Older Adults with Depressive Symptoms and Memory Problems: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Clinical Medicine. 2020 Jan;9(1):99.
  7. Montero Ferro A, P. Basso‐Vanelli R, Moreira Mello RL, Sanches Garcia‐Araujo A, Gonçalves Mendes R, Costa D, Gianlorenço AC. Effects of inspiratory muscle training on respiratory muscle strength, lung function, functional capacity and cardiac autonomic function in Parkinson's disease: Randomized controlled clinical trial protocol. Physiotherapy Research International. 2019 May 14:e1777.
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  11. Wollesen B, Rudnik S, Gulberti A, Cordes T, Gerloff C, Poetter-Nerger M. A feasibility study of dual-task strategy training to improve gait performance in patients with Parkinson’s disease. Scientific Reports. 2021 Jun 14;11(1):1-0.
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