Can Physical Therapy Help a Person With Huntington’s Disease

Physical therapy may be used alongside medications to help a person manage symptoms caused by Huntington’s Disease.

Physical therapy may have a number of benefits for people with Huntington's Disease, including better balance, improved coordination, and greater independence.

Updated on September 28, 2023

Huntington’s Disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that causes damage to and loss of neurons (nerve cells) in the brain. This causes injury to the parts of the brain that control movement. One of the defining symptoms of Huntington’s Disease is uncontrolled, involuntary movements (called chorea). Other symptoms include cognitive problems and changes in mental health, including depression.

Huntington’s Disease is a progressive condition, where symptoms change and become more severe over time.

What is the treatment for Huntington’s disease?

There are no treatments that can cure or slow the progression of Huntington’s Disease, and treatment focuses on managing symptoms. A treatment plan will need to evolve as the disease progresses, to keep up with changing symptoms and the type of care a person requires. A treatment plan usually includes medications that help control chorea and psychiatric symptoms.

Research into new ways to treat and manage Huntington’s Disease are an important topic of medical research, and numerous new drugs are under development. Another area of research is the potential impact that physical therapy may have on people living with Huntington’s disease.

What is physical therapy?

Physical therapy—also called physiotherapy—is a supervised, prescribed exercise program that focuses on improving strength, mobility, coordination, and overall health. It involves working with a healthcare provider called a physiotherapist (commonly called a physical therapist). Physical therapy programs are highly individualized, built around a person’s specific capabilities, needs, and goals.

Physical therapy and Huntington’s Disease

It’s important to remember that Huntington’s Disease is a different experience for every person. This means what is recommended for one person with Huntington’s Disease may not be recommended for another. Recommendations will vary depending on the individual and will change as the disease progresses.

People with the condition should consult their healthcare provider before beginning physical therapy or any other type of exercise program. Huntington’s disease can cause significant problems with balance, movement, and coordination, which can affect the types of exercises a person is able to do and their ability to do those exercises safely.

With that in mind, physical therapy is recommended as part of a treatment plan for Huntington’s Disease and can have a number of benefits for people living with the condition.

The potential benefits of physical therapy

Some of the benefits that physical therapy may have for people living with Huntington’s Disease include:

  • It can improve mobility, muscle strength, the strength of bones, and exercise capacity. These can help a person maintain more independence and do more things on their own.
  • Physical therapy can help maintain balance and coordination. Better balance and coordination can help lower the risk of falls.
  • Physical therapy involves training in a controlled environment under the guidance of a professional, which carries a lower risk of injury than training alone.
  • Exercises that are part of a physical therapy program are selected based on your abilities and goals. Again, this carries a lower risk of injury. It also ensures the exercises you are doing are addressing your needs.
  • Some research suggests that prescribed exercise may help improve cognitive and motor function for people with Huntington’s Disease—though more research is needed.
  • Many studies have associated exercise with better mental health.

Occupational and speech therapy

In addition to physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy are often a part of a treatment plan for Huntington’s Disease.

Occupational therapy focuses on the use of assistive devices, changes around the home, and changes to how a person approaches certain tasks. The goal is to help a person remain independent and continue to perform everyday tasks safely.

Working with a speech-language pathologist can help a person manage difficulties with communication and swallowing that occur as a result of Huntington’s Disease.

How to get started with physical therapy

If you or a loved one is living with Huntington’s Disease and you are interested in physical therapy or occupational therapy, talk to your healthcare provider. Ask if your healthcare provider can refer you to a physical therapist who has experience with neurological conditions. Communication between all healthcare providers you are working with also ensures that all parts of your treatment plan are working together.

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Huntington's Disease Society of America. Huntington's Disease Stages.
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Mackenzie W. Ferguson, Connor J. Kennedy, et al. Current and Possible Future Therapeutic Options for Huntington’s Disease. Journal of Central Nervous System Disease, 2022. Vol. 14.
Huntington's Disease Society of America. Therapies in Pipeline.
Lori Quinn, Deb Kegelmeyer, et al. Clinical recommendations to guide physical therapy practice for Huntington disease. Neurology, 2020. Vol. 94, No. 5.
National Library of Medicine. Physical Therapy. August 27, 2020.
Sandro Manuel Mueller, Jens A. Petersen, and Hans H. Jung. Exercise in Huntington’s Disease: Current State and Clinical Significance. Tremor and Other Hyperkinetic Movements, 2019. Vol. 9.
Bruno Trovato, Benedetta Magrì, et al. Effects of Exercise on Skeletal Muscle Pathophysiology in Huntington’s Disease. Journal of Functional Morphology and Kinesiology, 2022. Vol. 7, No. 2.
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