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Physical Therapy for Huntington’s Disease – Information, Exercises, and More

Huntington’s disease causes a myriad of balance and mobility issues.

Unfortunately, you may find yourself without the ability to do simple tasks like you used it. From writing a letter to picking up the newspaper from the front porch, you’re becoming more and more limited.

At this time, there is no cure for Huntington’s disease, but there are ways to help manage the symptoms.

Huntington’s disease physical therapy can help patients improve their balance and mobility and facilitate and maintain quality of life. Keep reading for more information about Huntington’s disease and the benefits of physical therapy.


What is Huntington’s Disease?

Huntington’s disease is a rare disease that causes the degeneration of nerve cells in the brain. The disease has a broad impact on the patient’s physical abilities and can cause cognitive and psychiatric disorders.

Symptoms can develop at any time but usually begin when people are in their 30s or 40s. When the disease develops before age 20, it’s called juvenile Huntington’s disease. The disease may progress more quickly if symptoms develop early.

 What Causes Huntington’s Disease?

Huntington’s disease is inherited. The autosomal dominant disorder develops due to a single defective gene passed on by one parent, giving the child a 50% chance of inheriting the gene that causes the disease. 

Huntington’s Disease Symptoms

Cognitive Dysfunction

Cognitive dysfunctions associated with Huntington’s disease include:

  • Difficulty prioritizing and focusing on tasks
  • Lack of impulse control, resulting in acting without thinking or outbursts
  • Slowness in processing thoughts and speech impairment
  • Difficulty learning new information
  • Getting stuck on a thought or action
  • Lack of awareness of one’s own abilities or behaviors

Psychiatric Disorders

Most commonly, Huntington’s disease patients face the possibility of depression. This occurs because of the disease’s effects on the brain. 

Other common psychiatric disorders include:

  • OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Mania

Physical Impairments

Physical impairments associated with Huntington’s disease include involuntary movement and limited voluntary movement, including:

  • Muscle contracture (dystonia) or rigidity
  • Impaired gait, balance, and posture
  • Involuntary writing or jerking motions (chorea)
  • Difficulty with speech or swallowing
  • Abnormal or slow eye movements

Huntington’s Disease Treatment

At this time, there is no treatment to alter the course of Huntington’s disease. Some medications can help reduce symptoms while other therapies can assist in maintaining quality of life.


Medications to address the symptoms of movement disorders associated with Huntington’s disease include:

  • Antipsychotic drugs, such as haloperidol and fluphenazine
  • Movement control drugs, such as tetrabenazine and deutetrabenazine
  • Medications to suppress chorea, such as amantadine and levetiracetam 

Depending on the disorders, medications to treat psychiatric disorders include: 

  • Antidepressants, such as citalopram and fluoxetine
  • Antipsychotic drugs, such as quetiapine and risperidone
  • Mood-stabilizing drugs, such as divalproex and carbamazepine 

Speech Therapy

Huntington’s disease can significantly impede muscle control in the throat and mouth, making it difficult to eat, swallow, and speak. Speech therapists help patients with the ability to speak clearly and overcome difficulties with eating and swallowing. 


Psychologists or psychiatrists can provide therapy that will help Huntington’s disease patients with:

  • Managing expectations during the progression of the disease
  • Behavioral problems and outbursts
  • Coping strategies

A psychotherapist may also assist in facilitating communication among family members. 

Huntington’s Disease Physical Therapy – Will PT Help?

Huntington’s disease and physical therapy go hand in hand. Physical therapists help Huntington’s disease patients improve strength, balance, flexibility, and coordination through a variety of supervised exercises and an at-home exercise regimen. 

The goal is to keep the patient mobile for as long as possible and reduce the risk of falls.

Huntington’s disease physical therapy is also important for supporting proper posture. Improved posture can help reduce the severity of some involuntary and voluntary movement issues.

Best Physical Therapy Exercises for Huntington’s Disease

Studies show that in addition to improving motor function, gait speed, and balance, Huntington’s disease physical therapy exercises have social benefits for the patient.

Below are the best physical therapy exercises for Huntington’s disease.  

AROM (Active Range of Motion) Exercises

Patients with Huntington’s disease often develop joint and muscle contractures that restrict movement. 

Active range of motion (AROM) exercises, such as moving arm and leg joints through their full range of motion, help to prevent these contractures and should be done daily.

By the middle and late stages of the disease, these movements may be limited and may require the support of a caregiver. 

All AROM exercises should be done while sitting in a supportive chair or while lying in bed so that the patient can maintain their balance.

Aerobic Exercises

Combining aerobic exercise and resistance training can help improve strength, balance, and flexibility as well as boost stamina.

Huntington’s disease patients should get 150 minutes per week of aerobic exercises, such as:

  • Walking (with the support of a walker, if needed)
  • Stationary cycling
  • Rowing
  • Swimming
  • And more 

Balance Exercises

Balance issues can develop early in the disease, making it difficult for a patient with Huntington’s disease to stand with feet close together or balance on one foot. It also increases the probability of falling.

Patients with Huntington’s disease can lack insight, making it harder for them to know that they are at high fall risk and modify their movements to reduce the risk.

A physical therapist will introduce a variety of exercises designed to help the patient maintain and improve balance as the disease progresses.

How In Motion O.C. Can Help With Huntington’s Disease

Physical therapy and Huntington’s disease are among our specialties at In Motion O.C. 

Our compassionate and caring doctors of physical therapy have helped patients with Huntington’s disease and other ailments manage their symptoms and maintain quality of life. All of our PT sessions take place in our state-of-art facilities at your convenience. 

We’ve been voted #1 Physical Therapist in the U.S. on Yelp and Google for good reason. Our clients love the care they receive from our physical therapists and we’d love the opportunity to provide you with the same level of care. 

For more information, or to book a consultation, contact us here.

In Motion O.C.