What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a chronic and progressive movement disorder in which the symptoms continually worsen over time.

PD involves the malfunction and death of neurons, specifically in an area of the brain called the substantia nigra. As PD progresses, dopamine—the chemical that controls muscle movement and coordination—decreases leaving a person unable to control their movements as they normally would.

Symptoms include:

  • Tremor of hands, arms, legs, jaw and face
  • Bradykinesia, or, slowness of movement
  • Rigidity of limbs and trunk
  • Postural instability, i.e., impaired balance and coordination

Although chiropractic treatments don’t slow the progression of Parkinson’s, patients can find reprieve from their symptoms, significantly reduce their discomfort, and have a better quality of life.

 How Does Chiropractic Care Help?

The earliest mention of treating Parkinson’s disease with chiropractic treatment was in a study by B.J. Palmer in 1934.  Palmer’s research indicated that upper cervical chiropractic care resolved symptoms associated with tremors, shaking, fatigue, and pain.

There appears to have been no further research on the treatments until a case study published in 2000 in the periodical Today’s Chiropractic.

The study follows the use of chiropractic alignment techniques administered to the upper cervical area of a group of patients known to have Parkinson’s disease.  Each participant received at least three months of treatment and 80% of subjects experienced improvements in the symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease.  Each of the subjects that improved experienced noticeable changes within the first month of treatment.

Dr. Randall Davis says that although there are several different chiropractic techniques, the overall goal is to restore the body to normal functioning. “In general, chiropractic treatments involve the application of the mechanical forces to the spine…[to] stimulate very specific nerve endings that are embedded in the spinal joint, which send messages into the spinal cord and brain to allow for muscle relaxation, increased range of motion, increased blood flow and circulation and reduction of pain” for patients with Parkinson’s.

Dr. Kristine Tohtz says that chiropractic adjustments can help with the rigidity of the joints and muscles and reduce the intensity of the tremors.

Over time Parkinson’s increases the weight bearing on discs and as well as increasing pressure on nerves; chiropractic treatment releases this pressure and allows patients to stand upright and free them from pain. This relief of pressure off bones and nerves is integral to reducing the symptoms of patients with Parkinson’s.

Why Does It Help?

New studies have begun to explore the effectiveness of chiropractic treatments to treat Parkinson’s and have shown promise in managing and reducing symptoms.

These studies show that treatment of the upper cervical area has helped more than 70% of patients regain muscle function, increased energy, and improved the quality of life of patients.

One such treatment was observed in a study involving a 66-year-old woman who had shown the presence of intersegmental dysfunctions which have been shown to interfere with the central nervous system.

Chiropractic treatment was administered to the patient to elicit plasticity within cortical structures, that is, to increase the flexibility of joints and bones in order to lessen the rigidity imposed by the degenerative nature of Parkinson’s.

Conclusions 

Parkinson’s disease affects nearly two million Americans, leaving them injured and often embarrassed by the symptoms they exhibit.

There is currently no cure for Parkinson’s disease and medications used to treat the illness have become less effective over time and often leave the patient with periods known as “off” stages.

Under the care of various chiropractic practitioners patients have experienced improvements and reported changes in:

  • Their overall levels of energy
  • Better sleeping patterns
  • Decrease in spinal pain and/or rigidity

Additionally, other patients reported:

  • Better balance
  • Better upright posture
  • Increased agility
  • Improved ability to turn over in bed
  • A more fluid gait
  • A decrease in the frequency and strength of tremors
  • A reduction in the number of falls and instances of their body freezing (not able to move parts of the body)

Even though the amount of research concerning chiropractic techniques to manage Parkinson’s symptoms is limited, one thing is clear: chiropractic treatment is an up and coming method for managing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

—Rebeca Alvarado


Also published on Medium.