Music-Based Interventions Used for Movement Disorders

Using Rhythm to Combat Cognitive Issues that Affect Movement

Hero image courtesy of CBC

Music and dance can be an effective treatment for individuals who suffer from a range of age-related disorders. Studies have shown that the rhythm of music can help improve speed, gait, and balance. Rhythm can also reduce the number of falls experienced by people who have movement disorders. The slowness and rigidity that go hand-in-hand with disorders such as Parkinson’s have been shown to fade while movements become more fluid when listening to music. Music and dance can fill a void that help to maintain a good quality of life and overall well-being for people suffering from movement disorders. Therefore, this article will discuss:

  • Common movement disorders: Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and Dystonia
  • Neuroscience behind rhythm 
  • Music therapy intervention options

Most Common Movement Disorders

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s Disease is a progressive nervous system disorder that affects movement. In the early stages of this disease, one’s face may begin to show little to no expression. Your arms and hands may have a slight tremor and your speech may become soft or slurred. As the disease progresses, movements will be slowed, posture and balance may be impaired, and speech and writing will show significant change. There are no known cures for Parkinson’s, but there are medications and treatments, such as music therapy, that can greatly improve the symptoms. 

Parkinson’s Disease effects on brain function can be seen in scans years before the disorder is diagnosed. Image courtesy of GEN

Huntington’s Disease

Huntington’s Disease is a progressive brain disorder that causes uncontrolled movement, uncontrollable emotions, and loss of cognitive abilities. Early signs and symptoms of this disorder can include irritability, depression, small involuntary movements, poor coordination, and trouble remembering new information. Involuntary jerking or twitching may develop and they will become more pronounced as the disease progresses. There is currently no cure for Huntington’s, but other treatments such as physical therapy and talk therapy may provide short-term relief. 


Dystonia is a movement disorder where a person’s muscles contract uncontrollably. The contraction causes involuntary twisting which in turn results in repetitive movements and abnormal postures. Dystonia typically affects women more than men. Some early symptoms of this disease can include cramping of the foot or leg, involuntary pulling of the neck, uncontrollable blinking, and speech difficulties. Dystonia seems to be related to a problem with the basal ganglia which is an area of the brain that is responsible for initiating muscle contractions.  There is no cure for Dystonia, but there are many treatment options such as music therapy that can ease the after-effects of the disease. 

Musician’s Focal Dystonia involves involuntary contractions of muscles needed to play a musical instrument. Image courtesy of Farias Technique

Neuroscience Behind Rhythm

Neuroscience can Reveal how Rhythm can Enhance Movement

Recent findings in the field of neuroscience revealed that rhythm has and will continue to have a fundamental impact on our ability to walk, talk, and feel different emotions. Training of auditory neural activity suggests that pure perception of a musical beat strongly engages the motor system including regions such as the premotor cortex, basal ganglia, and supplementary motor regions. This means that there is an intimate connection between music and motor functions of the brain. 

A steady, clear beat can help patients suffering from Parkinson’s overcome their shuffling gait. Although music cannot cure Parkinson’s, it can significantly improve a patient’s quality of life. It has also been found that people with Parkinson’s hear rhythms differently than people who do not suffer from movement disorders. Our ability to process as well as create different rhythms arose from a primal need for social cohesion. Large groups of people suffering from movement disorders have reacted well to music therapy group treatments. Rhythm is more than a fundamental feature of music. Rhythm is also a fundamental part of what makes us human.  

Music Therapy Intervention Options

How Music Therapy can Help Improve Movements and Keep your Brain Healthy

Music therapy sessions where patients are suffering from movement disorders can cause an increase in brain activation. Image courtesy of YouTube

Music makes improving the brain easier than first thought. Brain activation caused by music can translate into serious health improvements. Listening to, playing, and interacting with music has been shown  to decrease production of stress-inducing cortisol as well as increase production of cells that make the immune system more effective. Music can impede viruses entering the body as well as give many benefits to individuals suffering from many long term conditions such as Parkinson’s. Here are some ways music therapy can help people suffering from movement disorders:

  • Roots in Vibration - Music is rooted in vibration and rhythm. A specific type of music therapy called Vibroacoustic Therapy is especially beneficial for people with Parkinson’s. Vibroacoustic Therapy (VAT) is an evidence based treatment that uses sounds and vibrations to reduce stress, relieve pain, restore balance, and enhance quality of life. The vibration produced through this therapy can lead to decreased stiffness, reduced tremors, and longer walking strides. 
  • Finding a Group - Engaging in music therapy group sessions can help you feel less isolated as well as ease any anxiety you may feel. Incadence has group therapy options with trained music therapists that are extremely sympathetic to any problem you may have. 
  • Singing - People who suffer from Parkinson’s have noticed significant improvement in pitch duration, vocal loudness, and swallow control by singing. Since we know that Parkinson’s is degenerative, taking part in singing or voice lessons is said to help slow down the progression of the disease. 
  • Make a Schedule - Incorporating therapy into one’s life is very important. It is just as important to try and maintain music therapy as a regular aspect of one’s life. Writing the appointment on a calendar can help you to remember when the music session is and can also give you something to look forward to. 

In conclusion, music is good for the soul, and music therapy can be a viable therapy option for anyone suffering from movement disorders. 

Edited by Cara Jernigan on January 17, 2021

Haley Wisniewski
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