Physical Therapy and Parkinson’s Panel

In 2006, physical therapists Lee Dibble, Terry Ellis, and Gammon Earhart received funding from the Davis Phinney Foundation for the CHOP PD study, in which they hoped to lay a foundation for subsequent exercise trials that would show how exercise and physical activity can improve quality of life (in addition to many other benefits) for people with Parkinson’s.


  • The importance of seeing a physical therapist very soon after a Parkinson’s diagnosis 
  • The importance of aerobic, strength, and balance training when it comes to living well with Parkinson’s 
  • How physical therapy can help reduce pain and improve overall mobility 
  • How physical therapy can help with the non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s 
  • How to track your progress over time
  • New research in the works that may help you live better longer 
  • Innovative therapies you can try at home 

To download the transcript, click here.
Note: This is not a flawless word-for-word transcript, but it’s close.

Show Notes

  • Visiting a physical therapist (PT) soon after a Parkinson’s diagnosis is important because you can not only start building a relationship with this member of your care team, but you can get an assessment from them that will help you plan your next steps and determine which physical therapy approaches are optimal for you. 

  • PTs can spend time assessing your current levels of walking, balance, and more, and then personalize an exercise plan for your unique needs and wants. 

  • Using a secondary prevention (or what the three panelists call the “dental”) model can help you plan your PT visits. Terry explains that visiting a PT can and should be like visiting a dentist; you go every six months or every year, whether or not you think something is wrong. 

  • PTs often work closely with other allied health professionals, including occupational and speech-language therapists. This, Lee says, can help people with Parkinson’s optimize their care.

  • Although all PTs receive some training in Parkinson’s, those who specialize in neurological physical therapy have a much deeper understanding of Parkinson’s. “They have additional training and are more well-versed in the literature,” Terry says.

  • The “best” type of exercise is different for everyone. While some people benefit most from high-intensity training, others need to focus more heavily on balance and flexibility. PTs can assess your mobility and make a personalized plan that suits you. Individualized care is one of the primary reasons working with a PT is so beneficial.  

  • A new study (SPARX3) the panelists are involved in will investigate how exercise such as walking changes the brain and whether any changes are indicative of slowing the progression of Parkinson’s.

  • A PT can help you manage pain by exploring what may be causing pain and then determining if a different exercise program or technique would be better for you.   

  • Evidence shows that exercise not only improves motor symptoms in people with Parkinson’s but also non-motor symptoms like anxiety, depression, constipation, and sleep problems.

  • One of the primary roles of a PT, Lee says, is “to be concerned about quality of life. And I think that may be one of the primary outcome measures; if it’s meaningful to the person, and they feel like they’re getting benefit from it, then that’s probably the most important outcome. We find out what the goals of the individual person are and then create the program designed around those individual goals.” 

  • Many PTs, especially now during the COVID pandemic, provide telemedicine services.

  • Setting a firm schedule for yourself or enlisting a workout friend as an accountability partner can set you up for success in your exercise plan. Once you make exercise a habit, you won’t want to skip a session.

Resources and studies discussed in the panel

CHOP PD: Charting the Progression of Disability in Parkinson’s 

Effect of High-Intensity Treadmill Exercise on Motor Symptoms in Patients With De Novo Parkinson Disease

How to Find a Parkinson’s Physical Therapist Near You


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*The Second Season of the Parkinson’s Podcast is made possible through generous support in honor of Dr. Margaret Hilgartner.

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