• Welcome back to the final installment of this four part blog series about exercise.  What a journey! You have now learned about why exercise is important and can target neuroprotection and neuroplasticity, the importance of intensity, and some types of exercise that are beneficial for people with PD.  In this last section, we will discuss the who, what, and how of physical therapy. Please remember when reading this series to keep your own personal medical history in mind and consult with your physical therapist or physician before beginning or changing your exercise program.

    Who is a physical therapist?

    Physical therapists have received specialized graduate level education about body sciences and movement from an accredited program and have passed a state license examination. They have in-depth knowledge about the human body and have extensive clinical experience before they even graduate from school.  Therapists perform examinations and treatments with the goal of improving a person’s level of activity and community participation.  In short, physical therapists are movement and body experts.

    What do physical therapists do?

    Physical therapists use research and the latest evidence to guide everything they do.  They can teach you exercises that target the primary problem areas that are affecting your mobility.  Examples include strength, flexibility, posture, balance, gait, task practice, and daily activities.  Physical therapists with a background in neurologic or geriatric physical therapy will often also promote motor learning and brain change by tapping into neuroprotection (Part 1) and by using the neuroplastic principles (Part 2).

    Some physical therapists choose to specialize in a specific area of physical therapy. For example, I have chosen to specialize in neurologic physical therapy. Regardless of their specialty, physical therapists work with you to achieve your long term mobility goals and educate you on how exercise can help your condition.

    What is a neurologic physical therapist?

    A physical therapist that specializes in neurologic physical therapy has additional experience working with neurological populations such as survivors of stroke or people living with Parkinson’s. They also have in depth understanding about optimizing brain learning with exercise (neuroprotection and neuroplasticity). Some neurologic physical therapists also have received additional training through residency programs and some have gone on to take a specialty examination to become a board certified neurologic clinical specialist (NCS). To learn more about neurologic physical therapy, please visit: http://www.neuropt.org/consumer-info/what-is-a-neurologic-physical-therapist

    What should I expect from physical therapy?

    Expect to work hard! Because people with Parkinson’s need intensive exercise and a lot of specific task practice to make a change (Part 1 & Part 2), your physical therapist will keep you busy. Make sure you wear comfortable exercise clothes and supportive footwear to your physical therapy sessions.

    How do I find a physical therapist?

    One of the easiest ways to find a physical therapist is to go to www.apta.org/FindaPT. You can search by location and narrow your search by specialization – I recommend looking at both neurologic and geriatric specialties if you have Parkinson’s. If a therapist has the initials NCS or GCS after their name, that means that they are a board certified clinical specialist in neurologic or geriatric physical therapy respectively. Please don’t get discouraged if you can’t find a therapist with an NCS or GCS.  Only a small percentage of physical therapists are board certified clinical specialists. For example, as of 2014 only 0.7% of all physical therapists are neurologic clinical specialists and there are only 168 physical therapists that have an NCS in the state of California. Many therapists have extensive experience but have not taken the board certification examination – ask about their background and experience when researching physical therapists as they may be a great fit for you!

    Another way to locate a physical therapist that has a background in Parkinson’s disease is to seek out one that has been trained in LSVT BIG® or PWR!Moves™ (Part 3). These therapists have received extra training in how to work with people with Parkinson’s and understand the concepts of neuroplasticity and neuroprotection.

    I hope through this series that you have received the information you need to get started on a daily exercise program.  You now know why it is so important to exercise when living with Parkinson’s – exercise is medicine! And you now have the tools to find a physical therapist to help you meet your exercise and mobility goals. I truly wish you all the best on your exercise journey in the New Year!

    Use it or lose it,


    ABPTS. ABPTS Certified Specialist Statistics. Accessed at: http://www.abpts.org/About/Statistics/ Accessed on 12/15/2014.
    APTA. Choosing your physical therapist. Accessed at: http://www.moveforwardpt.com/Resources/Choose.aspx#.VKQ1LivF_wA Accessed on: 12/15/2014
    APTA. Benefits of physical therapy. Accessed at: http://www.moveforwardpt.com/Benefits/Default.aspx#.VKQ-WyvF_wA Accessed on: 12/15/2014
    Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Outlook Handbook: Physical Therapist. Accessed at: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapists.htm Accessed on: 12/15/2014
    The Neurology Section. Consumer Info. Accessed at: http://www.neuropt.org/consumer-info Accessed on: 12/12/2014