A specialty of health care that focuses on improving and restoring physical function after injury or disease. Physical therapy employs various modalities; those that seem to be most effective for people with Parkinson’s are prescribed exercises and activities to maintain muscle tone and strength, joint flexibility and range of motion, and functions of mobility such as balance, posture, and walking. Physical therapy often integrates with occupational therapy, which focuses on improving ability for activities of daily living (ADLs) environmental safety issues, and adapting to the slowing of movements, visual processing, and thinking processes that often accompanies Parkinson’s.
In the United States, there are two levels of physical therapy practitioners, the certified physical therapy assistant (CPTA) and the registered physical therapist (PTR). The CPTA is a technical practitioner who completes an accredited two-year program and passes a national certification examination. A physical therapist completes an accredited four-year undergraduate program and passes a national certification examination to earn the professional designation of physical therapist, registered. There are also postgraduate programs in physical therapy that award master’s or doctorate degrees following additional study. All states require both levels of practitioner to be licensed and to complete continuing education courses to remain current in practice standards.
Physical therapy services require a physician’s referral or prescription that specifies the kinds of services the person needs. The physical therapist completes an assessment of the person’s status and can make other recommendations, which the physician must approve. Physical therapy is often provided on an inpatient basis for people who are hospitalized, but is more often an outpatient service. Private medical insurance, medicare, and medicaid programs typically provide benefits for physical therapy services.