Back to Health News & Stories

LSVT BIG Therapy Provides Promise for Parkinsons Disease

An innovative type of physical therapy is helping people like Donna regain mobility lost to Parkinson’s disease and improve their quality of life.

Updated September 20, 2021

Donna Williams didn’t want anyone to know she had Parkinson’s disease. She didn’t want anyone to know of her problems walking, standing, going up and down the stairs, and doing seemingly ordinary things like opening a jar.

But thanks to an innovative type of physical therapy offered at Virtua called LSVT BIG, Donna has regained many of her abilities and is out and about in the community once again.

“I still can’t believe the change,” said Donna, 65, of West Berlin. “You gain a new way of looking at things, looking at movement. You’re much more aware.”

From Coping to Action

Donna was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in May 2021, but believes she likely developed it a year before. Donna has REM sleep behavior disorder, a relatively rare condition characterized by acting out your dreams—often violently. As the disorder involves a loss of normal muscle control, it is linked to the development of Parkinson’s.

“I knew I had it about a year before. I didn’t want to admit it to myself, really. I kept it under wraps,” she said. “It got to the point I couldn’t hide it. People could see how I was walking, how I couldn’t stand properly.”

People with Parkinson’s often move differently, with gestures and actions that become slower and smaller, and often interfere with daily living. Donna began shuffling her feet and experienced muscle freezing. She fell often, couldn’t get off the floor, and had difficulty going up and down the stairs and getting in and out of the car.

“My husband Larry kept saying pick up your feet, pick up your feet. He said, we’ve got to get you to somebody to help you,” said Donna.

Donna’s neurologist referred her to Virtua for LSVT BIG therapy.

Think BIG!

First developed in the late 1980s as speech therapy for Lee Silverman, Lee Silverman Voice Treatment (LSVT) expanded to address the physical needs of people living with Parkinson’s disease (LSVT BIG).

“As your Parkinson’s progresses, you may develop a shuffling gait or have a harder time buttoning a shirt or opening a water bottle. However, there’s a disconnect between what you feel you’re doing and what you’re actually doing, which can lead to frustration,” said Virtua physical therapist Pete Yucis, PT, DPT. “With LSVT BIG, we help you relearn how much effort you need to put into a task.”

Virtua’s LSVT program consists of 16 one-hour sessions over the course of a month. Each session consists of exercises focused on improving core movements, such as walking and sitting down and rising from a chair. The therapy is then customized to fit an individual’s specific goals.

For Donna, those goals included getting off the ground so she could continue gardening, opening a bottle, and going up and down the stairs.

As the name implies, exercises often involve learning to make larger, exaggerated movements, like taking longer, wider steps to walk.

“My feet did not want to go. My brain couldn’t make my feet go forward,” said Donna. “I’ve had to retrain my brain how to do things.”

The program also teaches strategies to improve fine-motor skills, if needed, such buttoning clothing, opening a jar, and writing.

Donna said she saw a difference in her movement after her first therapy session.

“I hated exercise. If I could ride, I’d ride rather than walk,” she said. “I saw results so quickly, it was hard for me to deny it was a good thing.”

As Parkinson’s may make it harder to remember the new movements consistently, participants are encouraged to continue practice at home.

“That’s really key for everyone. You’ve got to do your homework,” she said.

Improved Balance and Mobility

Pete, one of nine Virtua physical therapists trained in LSVT BIG, praised Donna’s progress.

“Donna was hiding away,” he said. “Now she’s going to stores, walking around the community. It’s really changed her life.”

For Donna, who had to give up caring for her parents due to her condition, Pete’s dedication has been immense.

“Pete would pay attention to what I was doing and make corrections so I would get the maximum benefit for a particular movement,” she said. “If I do slide back, I can return to Virtua and reenergize and make the most of what I have.”

Donna encourages others managing Parkinson’s to seek out LSVT BIG therapy.

“This therapy has showed me I could control the progression of this disease. You can have a better quality of life,” she said. “If you don’t do something, you’ll be in a wheelchair before you know it.

Meet Your Rehab Goals!

Virtua Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation’s clinically experienced and licensed therapists provide high-quality, personalized care to help you meet your goals.

Learn more about our outpatient physical therapy offerings or call 855-847-8821 to schedule an appointment.