Acupuncture is the practice of penetrating the skin with thin, solid, metallic needles, which are then activated through gentle and specific movements of the practitioner’s hands or with electrical stimulation.
Acupuncture is part of the ancient practice of traditional Chinese medicine. Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners believe the human body has more than 2,000 acupuncture points connected by pathways or meridians. These pathways create an energy flow (Qi, pronounced “chee”) through the body that is responsible for overall health; disruption of the energy flow can cause disease. By applying acupuncture to certain points, it is thought to improve the flow of Qi, thereby improving health.
Acupuncture is done using hair-thin needles, which are inserted to a point that produces a sensation of pressure of an ache. Most people report only feeling minimal pain as the needle is inserted. Sometimes, needles are heated during treatment or a mild electric current is applied to them. Some people report acupuncture makes them feel energised, others say they feel relaxed.
Anecdotal evidence suggests acupuncture may improve symptoms including tremor, walking difficulties, rigidity and pain. There is increasing evidence that acupuncture may help with non-motor symptoms such as sleep problems and anxiety.
Many people find that acupuncture increases energy levels, induces relaxation, improves appetite, mood and sleep, as well as an overall sense of well-being. There is also evidence that acupuncture reduces stress levels through the release of endorphins.
The effectiveness of acupuncture in relieving pain has been conclusively demonstrated and is now acknowledged worldwide. A national expert panel of United States National Institutes of Health concluded in 1998 that there is clear evidence that needle acupuncture treatment is more effective and has fewer side effects for certain symptoms than conventional treatments.
The Bowen technique, also known as Bowen therapy, is a holistic, hands-on, non-manipulative therapy that encourages the body to heal, realign and relax. The therapist uses their fingers and thumbs in precise areas to gently move your muscles, tendons or ligaments. These light movements aim to:
The Bowen technique is not massage, acupressure or chiropractic. There is no manipulation, adjustment or hard or prolonged pressure. It is a subtle and relaxing treatment that gently move the muscles and soft tissues. It is believed that by relaxing you physically, Bowen therapy allows emotional blocks to be released. It’s also used to treat conditions such as asthma, irritable bowel syndrome and migraine.
So far, there has been little academic research into the benefits of the Bowen technique in Parkinson’s and further studies are required to establish if it is in fact beneficial. Clinical evidence has shown it to be helpful more generally, in particular in relieving pain, stiffness, stress, anxiety and sleep problems. Many people with Parkinson’s say that they find the technique helpful in reducing their symptoms and promoting a sense of well-being and relaxation.
Like many other complementary therapies, the treatment does not set out to treat specific conditions or ailments. Instead, it treats the body as a whole, helping it to function better rather than overcoming a specific illness such as Parkinson’s. It is believed that the sequences of Bowen movements stimulate the body to heal itself.
Cupping therapy is an ancient form of alternative medicine in which a therapist uses special cups on your body to create suction. People use cupping for many purposes, including to help with pain, inflammation, blood flow, relaxation and well-being, and as a type of deep-tissue massage. The process increases blood circulation to the area where the cups are placed, which may help to relieve muscle tension, and improve overall blood flow and promote cell repair. It may also help form new connective tissues and create new blood vessels in the tissue.
Some people say cupping is helpful for reducing pain and chronic (ongoing) health issues. Cupping may ease symptoms of:
Cupping therapy is not recommended for everyone. Extra caution should be taken if you have fragile, ageing skin or are currently taking any medication. Cupping is not suitable for people on blood-thinning medication.
Also, avoid cupping if you have sunburn, a wound or skin ulcer, have experienced recent trauma or have been diagnosed with an internal organ disorder.
Massage aims to stimulate the body through the skin. It is usually administered by hand (but it can also be given using the elbows and feet) and can be applied to any part of the body to heal injury, relieve psychological stress and tension, improve circulation, manage pain, relax muscle spasms, and eliminate waste and toxins from the body.
There are many different massage techniques. Some are gentle, aiming to trigger the release of endorphins (the body’s own painkillers) and promote a sense of relaxation and well-being. Other techniques are more vigorous to help stretch uncomfortable muscles or to ease stiff joints, thereby improving mobility and flexibility.
Massage should not hurt, although you may experience some discomfort if pressure is applied. It is not suitable if you have certain medical conditions such as deep vein thrombosis, damaged blood vessels, bleeding disorders or you take blood thinners such as Warfarin. Massage is also not suitable if you have weakened or fractured bones.
If you have bruising or wounds, you should wait for these to heal before having a massage.
Research suggests that massage can help to relieve muscle stiffness and rigidity, two common symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. It can also help reduce stress, promote relaxation and enable you to identify areas of tension in your body you can then work to minimise or reduce. Tension can make symptoms worse so it is important to keep it under control.
Massage can be invigorating and stimulating for the mind and body. It is important to decide what effect you want – relaxing or stimulating – before your massage session starts.
Massage can work in two ways:
A mechanical action in which the muscles and soft tissues of the body have pressure applied to them or are stretched using specific movements. This can help in breaking down ‘knotty’, fibrous tissue, keeping joints loose and connective tissue in good condition.
A reflex action in which massaging one part of the body has an effect on another part, for example, massaging the neck can help with back pain, or massaging the lower back can help with leg pain. This works because nerve pathways connect various parts of the body, resulting in a beneficial ‘knock-on’ effect.
Massage may also help to:
Reflexology is based on the principle that tiny reflex zones on the feet, hands and ears directly relate to the anatomy of the body. A reflexologist applies pressure to the specific reflex zone associated with the affected area of the body, triggering the body’s natural healing process. Like acupuncture, the process is based on traditional Chinese medicine, which focuses on the release of energy (Qi) blockages in the body.
There is very limited scientific evidence into the benefits of reflexology in Parkinson’s and more research is needed in order to draw reliable conclusions. The effects are unique to each person, but many believe reflexology promotes relaxation, improves circulation, stimulates vital organs, and encourages the body’s natural healing processes. It may also speed up the elimination of harmful toxins from the body, as well as boosting the production of natural chemicals in the brain.
Reflexology can be helpful when used to support traditional Parkinson’s treatments. For example, it can stimulate the saliva glands and tear ducts which are often suppressed as a result of Parkinson’s medications, and can also help to relieve constipation.
This therapy may be unsuitable if you have certain medical conditions such as epilepsy, diabetes, thyroid problems, a blood disorder, foot problems or you are in the first trimester of pregnancy. You should always talk to your doctor or other healthcare professional before starting any treatment.
Kinesiology is non-manipulative therapy which uses gentle, manual muscle testing (also known as muscle monitoring) to assess the body’s energy flow (Qi) and identify any disruptions or imbalances. Kinesiologists believe that each of our muscles is connected to an organ, so if a muscle appears to be weak, they believe that this reflects a problem with the associated organ. Kinesiology is a holistic treatment which looks at the body as a whole rather than at individual symptoms.
Muscle testing is the principal tool of kinesiology and a practitioner will apply gentle pressure to a contracted muscle to assess its responses – this should be neither painful nor uncomfortable. The way the muscle responds reveals any imbalances in the body’s energy pathways which the kinesiologist can then correct. These corrections take the form of a variety of simple yet effective techniques, including:
By detecting imbalances which can then be corrected, kinesiology can be helpful in improving general health by:
Kinesiology does not interfere with medications and is not known to have any side effects so is generally considered to be a safe treatment.
There are various branches of kinesiology but all use muscle testing and a holistic approach that promotes a personal healing process.
Some studies have suggested that kinesiology may be a useful diagnostic tool, but there is no clinical research so far into its validity with Parkinson’s. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that some people with the condition have found kinesiology improves their health and vitality, whilst reducing tension and depression.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that kinesiology can also improve gait disturbances, postural changes and imbalance, as well as muscle rigidity – all of which are common symptoms of Parkinson’s. Kinesiology aims to encourage better control of movement, improve balance and motor function, and to develop general well-being.
Each person will respond differently to this therapy so you will need to set clear goals and monitor if you think kinesiology is helping you.
Reiki is the ancient practice of channelling universal energy – or ‘Qi’ – to heal and harmonise the body. It is said to bring you back into equilibrium by balancing the seven major chakras (energy centres) in the body. It works on the connection between mind and body, in the belief that deepening the power of the mind can be one of our best healing tools.
There are many different types of Reiki – the more traditional forms are Usui and Tibetan Reiki, but other more recently developed forms, such as Shamballa Reiki, have become increasingly popular. It is taught by a Reiki Master (teacher).
In Japanese rei means ‘God’s Wisdom or the Higher Power’ and ki means ‘life force energy’. So, the actual meaning of Reiki is ‘spiritually guided life force energy’.
There is little research into the benefits of Reiki in Parkinson’s although some limited studies in the general population have shown that it can help with pain relief, mood and depression.
Many believe that Reiki can trigger feelings of well-being., calm and a sense of being in control – which is of obvious benefit to family and carers too. Its healing energy addresses mind, body and soul:
Mind – Reiki calms the mind and relieves stress, harmonising and balancing your emotional state.
Body – Reiki energy helps to nourish and heal damaged tissue and encourages the body’s natural healing and detoxifying processes. It can help to release any energy blockages.
Soul – Reiki channels ‘life force energy’ and engages with the soul, gently nourishing and healing deep within.
Some of the potential benefits in Parkinson’s cited by Reiki Masters are:
The channelling of Reiki energy to the part of the brain that regulates dopamine levels
improvements in the function of the blood-brain barrier so that Parkinson’s medication can be delivered more efficiently to the brain.
Improving the body’s vitality and natural healing processes by channelling energy into the organs affected by Parkinson’s medications.
Each person will respond differently to this treatment, but you may find that it helps with deep relaxation and improves your vitality. As a method of channelling positive energy, it can be a good way to combat feelings of negativity which may help with depression.
As Reiki is non-invasive it is generally considered safe.
Tai (or t’ai) Chi is an ancient martial art originating in the Far East. Based on 6,000-year-old Chinese teachings, Tai Chi is both an exercise and fighting system, but which is now practised as a defence against the stresses and strains of daily life.
Combining movement, meditation and breath regulation, Tai Chi is a series of co-ordinated, rhythmical exercises performed in a slow, relaxed manner that can improve and maintain health (including the functioning of internal organs), create a sense of relaxation, improve balance and posture, and enhance the flow of energy (or Chi) in the body. Unlike yoga, the benefits of Tai Chi are found in the movement, not in holding the posture.
Tai Chi actually consists of 108 intricate exercise sequences which also help improve mental concentration. Those who practice Tai Chi believe that the mind is the most important tool in achieving excellence in all areas of life, including health, and the ability to focus the mind is essential to changing and healing oneself.
To date there is limited research into the benefits of Tai Chi for Parkinson’s but because it enhances balance and body awareness, it is believed by many to reduce the risk of falls, improve balance and confidence when walking and also improve gait and posture. Some people with Parkinson’s have reported improvements in sleep too.
Unlike most sports or exercises, Tai Chi does not rely on strength, force or speed, which makes it possible for a range of abilities, ages and strengths. Even a small amount of practice can bring benefits in health and fitness, enabling the mind and body to relax. This in turn may improve emotional well-being. and overall quality of life.
As with all physical therapies, you may find some of the activities challenging, but techniques may be adapted to suit individuals – your teacher should be able to advise on this. Special care may be needed if you have severe osteoporosis, a hernia or are pregnant.
Shiatsu is a Japanese form of massage therapy, sometimes known as ‘needle-less acupressure’. It aims to help correct imbalances in the body, treat pain and illness, enhance the body’s natural healing powers, facilitate relaxation and promote good health. Shiatsu is a holistic treatment which looks at the body rather than at individual symptoms.
Rhythmic pressure from the thumbs, fingers and palms is applied to specific points of the body to stimulate and improve the body’s energy flow (Chi) without the use of any instruments or needles. These movements are believed to rebalance any excess or lack of energy along the body’s energy pathways. Many of the techniques are common to other therapies including massage and physiotherapy.
You should avoid shiatsu if you have weak bones or certain blood disorders. Special care is needed in early pregnancy. Talk with an experienced practitioner if you have any health concerns.
Little research has been done into the effects of shiatsu as a Parkinson’s therapy, but many believe that benefits are similar to those of massage and may include:
Originating in India more than 5,000 years ago, yoga is a Hindu system of philosophy that harmonises the body, mind and spirit to promote health and inner peace.
Yoga involves gentle movements designed to maintain fitness, suppleness and muscle tone as well as optimising the body’s own healing powers. Breathing is an important aspect and this, together with meditation and visualisation (imagining a scene) exercises, is thought to help to:
Diet and lifestyle are also important aspects of yoga.
There are a number of different types of yoga, some more strenuous than others. In the West, Hatha yoga is the most widely taught, combining asanas (physical exercises and postures), pranayama (breathing techniques) and dhyana (meditation).
Yoga is sometimes confused with Pilates but there are important differences. Yoga focusses on increasing flexibility and strength in the whole body and improving breathing. Pilates also aims to improve breathing, but it is focussed more on specific movement in targeted areas of the body, especially the core abdominal and back muscles.
Yoga can be practised when and where you wish. If you want to try yoga at home, you should make sure you have some lessons with an expert first so as to learn the basic principles and techniques.
There is little research into the benefits of yoga in Parkinson’s but in general yoga can be particularly helpful in reducing muscle rigidity and in increasing balance, flexibility and strength. Because yoga offers a holistic approach to body, mind and spirit, many people with Parkinson’s say it equips them with ‘tools’ to cope with daily life. For many it offers emotional stability – an inner peace and sense of calm – as well as overcoming some of the physical symptoms of the illness.
As yoga aims to help energise the body and mind, improve concentration, and reduce stress, it can be beneficial to family and carers too.
As with all physical therapies, you may find some of the activities challenging, but techniques may be adapted to suit individuals, for example a chair may be used for support instead of lying on a mat – your teacher should be able to advise on this.
Pilates is a low-impact exercise method dedicated to improving physical and mental health. It is a system of body control which teaches people how to use their muscles more efficiently by realigning and correcting poor body posture.
Pilates focuses on building strong abdominal and back muscles (the core muscles) to increase flexibility and agility, and at the same time tone stomach and thigh muscles, whilst improving posture.
Pilates is based on eight principles:
It is not aerobic, although pilates does require effort, and involves a lot of mat work and deep abdominal muscle work. It is gentle and generally safe provided it is taught by a qualified teacher who understands your situation.
There is very limited research into the benefits of pilates for Parkinson’s and each person will react differently to the therapy. Many people say it helps to relieve the stresses of everyday life, offering a chance to relax and focus while strengthening and toning the body. Stretching muscles through pilates exercises may release tension and pain, and can trigger natural sleep responses. However further clinical studies are needed to prove if there are any clear benefits for people with Parkinson’s.
Pilates can increase your strength and stamina by toning and stretching the abdominal muscles. In strengthening the core muscles and re-aligning the spine, pilates can improve your posture and balance, thereby reducing the number of falls and injuries.
This therapy is thought to help with poor brain-body integration, as is common in Parkinson’s. The messages the brain sends through the spine and surrounding muscles (the central nervous system) will work more effectively if your central nervous system is functioning well. This should mean that motor function and coordination improve.
Breathing techniques are also an important part of pilates, helping the delivery of oxygen to the body as well as boosting energy levels.
If you find some of the moves difficult then discuss this with your teacher as they will be able to suggest how you can adapt techniques to suit your needs.
Hydrotherapy, which comes from the Greek words meaning ‘healing water’, is the use of water to maintain health and prevent disease. It is used to treat rheumatic conditions, such as arthritis, as well as musculoskeletal disorders and neurological conditions.
The term hydrotherapy can relate to treatments involving immersion in water, such as whirlpools and steam baths, or to specially selected exercises carried out in the water to improve health and promote relaxation. It is much more than just swimming – hydrotherapy uses water’s buoyancy to support the body and relieve painful pressures. It is carried out under the direction of trained physiotherapists or qualified teachers.
Hydrotherapy is particularly helpful for treating Parkinson’s symptoms for the following reasons:
The water’s buoyancy can support weak muscles and allow limbs to be moved in a less painful manner.
The resistance of the water helps strengthen muscles and limbs.
Simply being in the water can be relaxing and provide pain relief.
Being in water reduces the fear of falling, so you may feel safer and more comfortable whilst exercising.
Exercise releases endorphins (anti-stress hormones) that relieve pain naturally.
Hydrotherapy exercises can be designed to:
Dry needling is a modern treatment designed to ease muscular pain. Its popularity is growing.
During dry needling, a practitioner inserts several filiform needles into your skin. Filiform needles are fine, short, stainless-steel needles that don’t inject fluid into the body. That’s why the term “dry” is used.
Practitioners place the needles in “trigger points” in your muscle or tissue. Dry needling is also sometimes called intramuscular stimulation. The points are areas of knotted or hard muscle.
Dry needling practitioners say the needle helps release the knot and relieve any muscle pain or spasms. The needles will remain in your skin for a short period of time. The length of time depends on the practitioner. Some healthcare professionals, such as physical therapists and massage therapists, receive some training in dry needling.
Dry needling may provide relief for some muscular pain and stiffness. In addition, easing the trigger points may improve flexibility and increase range of motion.”