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Pilates for Parkinson’s Disease

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Pilates for Parkinson's Disease

Pilates for Parkinson’s Disease

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with several people with Parkinson’s Disease (PD) in various stages of their diagnosis.  My interest in this population inspired me to get my LSVT certification (a special protocol exercise program for people with PD) and I’ve been applying the principles to both my Physical Therapy and Pilates practice ever since.  While it is long known that people with PD should be engaging in all types of exercise, the benefits of Pilates for Parkinson’s Disease hasn’t been explored as much.  Hopefully by the end of this blog, you will see how Pilates can be extremely beneficial to those with PD; but first, let’s do a quick overview of what exactly PD is.

Parkinson’s Disease (PD)  is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder, affecting 1% of people over the age of 651.  PD is a diagnosis which affects the area in the brain called the substantia nigra –the house where an important neurotransmitter, dopamine, is created.  Dopamine is a chemical messenger which plays a vital role in movement and mood.  PD is a progressive disease in which there is LESS dopamine being produced in the brain, thus characterized by symptoms such as slow movement, rigid muscles, impaired coordination, postural instability, and oftentimes depression.  Current research supports that frequent intensive exercise focusing on promoting flexibility, aerobic exercise and strength training are essential in helping slow down the progression of PD.2


Fight Parkinson’s with improved balance  

People with PD have between 38-73% more fall-related injuries as compared to one without a neurodegenerative disease.3  Pilates exercises address balance and coordination in multiple positions throughout a session.  During a class, your pilates instructor may have you start in a supine (face up) position, then work towards seated, quadruped (on all 4’s) and then finally progressing to the smallest base of support for balance: standing.  Within safe limits, you may also find that there are exercises requiring you to balance on one leg.  Addressing single limb stance in people with PD is very important as it has been found to be correlated with fall risk-meaning that the longer you are able to balance on one leg, the lesser your likelihood of falling is.


Pilates groups can improve quality of life

People with PD often list depression as one of the top non-motor symptoms they have after receiving their diagnosis2; this is due to the physiological fact that dopamine helps control the pleasure center in the brain, but also because they are being faced with a lifelong disease.  However, exercise is able to combat depression.  Rafferty et. al. found that people with PD who exercised regularly for at least 2.5 hours a week reported improved quality of life over a two year period as compared to those that didn’t exercise. 4 Exercising with Pilates for Parkinson’s Disease has the added benefit of an accountability partner (whether it is your instructor in a 1-on-1 session or the person that is always on the reformer next to you in a group class), which always makes the sweat more enjoyable!


Improve flexibility with pilates

Due to the muscle rigidity in people with PD, they present with decreased flexibility which leads to joint and muscular pain.  Pilates improves flexibility by use of props and equipment (We all love the ‘feet in straps’ exercise on the reformer at the end of class to help mobilize our hips!).  Verbal and tactile cues throughout Pilates sessions aim to optimize length and elongation from head to toe.  Postural awareness exercises in the client with PD will help improve thoracic mobility, back extensor muscle strength, and overall balance since their center of gravity will be more optimally aligned.


Important tips to remember for Parkinson’s Disease

Given the increased postural instability in people with PD, it is of utmost importance to guard closely when performing balance tasks.  It would be recommended for someone with PD to initiate a Pilates strengthening program via private sessions with an instructor or PT that has experience working with the PD population prior to engaging in group classes.   It is also preferred for the Pilates instructor or Physical Therapist to cue “BIG” movement with someone with PD, as their disease causes them to move with very slow and small motions.  Finally, it is key to coordinate sessions around the client’s medication schedule.  In the beginning stages of a Pilates program, it would be best to plan the session at the optimal time of medication (also known as “On Time”) as the client will have the most successful movement experience during this time.  After a client is advancing with Pilates, it would be beneficial to periodically do sessions during the “Off time” of medication to help the him/her practice when most vulnerable and help promote carry over of motor learning tasks to real world balance tasks.

As with all neurodegenerative disorders, people with PD should receive medical clearance from their doctor or physical therapist prior to engaging in a Pilates for Parkinson’s Disease program.  For more information on Parkinson’s Disease, a great resource is  And to anyone with Parkinson’s Disease out there-Keep moving and fight back!


Kelsey Garcia DPT, PMA®-CPT, LSVT® Certified Clinician



  1. Tanner, Caroline & Goldman, Samuel. (1996). Epidemiology of Parkinson’s Disease. Neurologic clinics. 14. 317-35. 10.1016/S0733-8619(05)70259-0.

National Parkinson Foundation

Ashburn A, Stack E, Pickering RM, Ward CD. Predicting fallers in a community-based sample of people with Parkinson’s disease. Gerontology. 2001; 47:277-281.

Rafferty MR, Schmidt PN, Luo ST, et al. Regular Exercise, Quality of Life, and Mobility in Parkinson’s Disease: A Longitudinal Analysis of National Parkinson Foundation Quality Improvement Initiative Data. J Parkinsons Dis. 2017;7(1):193-202.


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  • Jose Ava
    05/08/2018 at 3:09 am

    I noticed nothing different about my walk. It was difficult getting up from` a chair and getting out of a car. I was diagnosed a year later and i have to find a better solution and was introduced to try the help of herbal formula. I am now 59 tho and am fully cured from Parkinson’s disease.
    contact Total Cure Herbal Foundation on: Totalcureherbalfoundation gmailcom i had to use the remedies for 15 weeks usage which really help on my condition.

  • Carlos Benita
    09/11/2019 at 1:29 am

    I am a 51 year old female that just found out I have Parkinson’s, but I have been having signs of it for years, tremors, depression, body weakness. ECT. I honestly don’t think my doctor was reading the signs because of my gender and age. A few years ago I had my shoulder lock up on me and I was sent to a P.T since x-rays didn’t show any physical damage. My shaking was getting worse and I began falling. Only when my speech became so bad that it brought concern to my dentist was Parkinson’s even considered. He phoned my doctor with his concerns about my shaking and balance problems. By this time I was forgoing shots in the back of my neck for back and neck pain to which once again I was sent to a P.T (although x-rays showed no damage) I was told I had a few spurs which were most likely causing the pain. Here I was feeling like my whole body was falling apart and doctor could not find anything wrong, maybe in was all in my head? My doctor even seemed annoyed with me and things just kept progressing and I just kept it to myself, why bother going through testing and them finding nothing? Well, it was after my second P.T called my doctor about the weakness in my legs and arms, by this time I have developed a gait in my walk and I fell more frequently. Only then did my doctor send me to a specialist and it was found that I had Parkinson’s, and that I have had it for awhile. I think because I was a woman that my signs and symptoms weren’t taken seriously and therefor left untreated for so long,I was taking pramipexole dihydrochloride three times daily, I Was on carbidopa levodopa but only lasted 90 minutes then wore off.I found that none of the current medications worked effective for me.I got tired of using those medication so I decided to apply natural herbs formula that was prescribed to me by my second P.T, i purchase the herbal formula from totalcureherbsfoundation. com, There has been huge progression ever since I start the treatment plan which will last for 15 weeks usage.all the symptoms and sign has begin to disappear .

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