Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative and progressive illness that attacks the central nervous system (CNS). It is estimated that around 127,000 people in the UK are plagued by the disease, which causes dysfunction in the basal ganglia- the area of the brain that is responsible for voluntary movement. Sufferers of this chronic disorder offer suffer from rigidity, bradykinesia (slow movement), tremors, parkinsonian gait (difficulty walking) and poor balance.
The development of Parkinson’s is a result of dopamine-producing cells in the brain becoming degenerative. The neurotransmitter, dopamine, stimulates the nerve cells that control the muscles; but when dopamine production is exhausted, the motor neurons fail to control coordination and movement any longer. By the time symptoms of Parkinson’s have appeared, most people have lost around 80% of their dopamine- generating cells. Although this illness can occur at any age, it is most common amongst people in their 60’s.
Whilst the definite cause of Parkinson’s disease remains unknown, so does a cure. Whilst modern medicine and science it yet to establish a remedy for the disease, there are treatments available to help manage the symptoms.
Physiotherapy works to ease muscle stiffness and joint pain through manipulation and movement of the body. The aim of is to make movement less of a challenge, whilst improving flexibility and easing pain. Similarly, physiotherapy can also improve fitness levels, making movement less of a challenge- especially for the elderly.
Speech and language therapy
Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) is a common symptom of Parkinson’s disease. Similarly, many sufferers also find it difficult to speak. Speech and language therapy helps people to improve their speech and their ability to swallow following guidance from a language therapist. As well as this, assistive technology can also be introduced.
Occupational therapy looks to make everyday life simpler and easier for a Parkinson’s sufferer. This includes introducing safety measures to the homes of those with the disease, making sure everything if properly set up and easy to access. Similarly, this type of therapy helps individuals to get dressed, wash themselves and even travel to local shops. Its ultimate purpose is to prolong peoples’ independence for as long as possible.
Many Parkinson’s sufferers have made their illness more manageable by changing and adapting their diets. Studies have shown that increased fibre and fluids reduce constipation and increased salt intake can lower blood pressure. Scientists have also found that changes in the diet stop unintentional weight loss in many cases. However, people should always refer to a dietitian or doctor before making drastic changes.
There are many forms of medication available to people with Parkinson’s disease- most of which can improve movement, reduce tremors and other symptoms. However, not everyone benefits from them.
Levodopa- This medicine absorbs into the nerve cells and is turned into dopamine. This is responsible for transmitting messages between different areas within the brain and helps to control movement. Levodopa usually improves movement, but it ultimately depends on the person. When first prescribed this medication, the dose is small, but will be gradually increased if not effects show. However, the main problem with levodopa is its efficiency as a long-term remedy. In the beginning, the effects are usually drastic. But in time, they can wear off. Similarly, long-term use of this medicine can cause dyskinesias (jerking muscles), whereby people can temporarily lose mobility at any given time.
Dopamine agonists- These essentially act as a substitute for dopamine, but are generally milder then levodopa, and given less frequently. They can be taken orally in tablet form, or can be applied via a skin path known as a rotigotine. Often, dopamine agonists are taken alongside levopoda, so that fewer doses of levopoda are needed. However, there are some possible side-effects. Dopamine agnostics can cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness, tiredness and lethargy. But they can also cause increased confusion and hallucinations in extreme cases. These are therefore not encouraged to be taken in high doses for those reasons.
Monoamine oxidase- B inhibitors- These are inhibitors that are used as an alternative to levodopa. These are sometimes used to treat Parkinson’s at an early stage, because they are effective in breaking down dopamine. Although they generally improve most symptoms, some side effects do include headaches, nausea, high blood pressure and abdominal pains.
Catechol-O-methyltransferase inhibitors- This is an inhibitor given to people who are in the later stages of the disease. They stop levodopa being broken down by an enzyme known as COMT (Catechol-O-methyltransferase). This medication can also cause mild side-effects including abdominal pain, nausea/vomiting and diarrhoea.
Some people are treated with deep brain stimulation if medication doesn’t work. Available in specialist neuroscience centres across the UK, surgery is an option for someone suffering from Parkinson’s disease. However, it isn’t appropriate for everyone and can also be very traumatic for patients. It involves a pulse generator being implanted into the chest wall that is connected to several wires underneath the skin. These are then carefully and precisely inserted into certain areas of the brain. Following this, a small electric current is produced by the generator which stimulates the part of the brain that is associated with Parkinson’s. However, it is important to remember that surgery does not cure Parkinson’s- it simply manages symptoms.
Massage therapy as an alternative treatment
As with all medicine, the body eventually builds up a tolerance. The effects become less noticeable and the symptoms grow stronger. Similarly, surgery still cannot cure Parkinson’s, and only relives some symptoms. As such, it is no surprise that many people with this crippling illness are looking for different healing avenues to explore. It is no surprise that people across the country and world are trying massage therapy as a complimentary therapy.
Massage therapy is popular amongst Parkinson’s sufferers because it eases stiffness in the body. Typically, Parkinson’s causes chronic rigidity and most forms of bodywork aim to alleviate this problem in the joints and muscles. Whilst massage is generally safe for people with this illness, it can be pointless for people who have little or no sensation in specific areas of the body. When nerve cells die, a person’s movement becomes affected, according to the University of Maryland Medical Centre.
It can be slow, shaky and uncoordinated, with the addition of tremors, as explained by the university. However, massage therapy can improve these symptoms.
It can reduce muscle spasms
Whilst massage therapy alone isn’t enough to completely cure muscle spasms, it can drastically reduce them. It is a natural way to improve muscle function without the use of medication or surgical intervention. A study found that after 15 minutes of bodywork whilst lying on their stomach, Parkinson’s sufferers showed a large reduction in muscle spasms and tremors. This proves that massage therapy does have a positive effect on the body.
It can help people sleep
A more restful night’s sleep can make an enormous difference for Parkinson’s sufferers. It can minimise tremors and lessen tension in the muscles which can improve movement rigidity. Studies have found that improved sleep decreases the levels of cortisol in the body, which is known as a ‘stress hormone’. Various people with Parkinson’s disease have reported feeling more energised and happier after a restful night’s sleep. As such, massage therapy is beneficial, even if just for this reason.
Generally, massage therapy improves blood circulation around the body through techniques used. This can include kneading and effleurage. This can have positive effects on most people, including Parkinson’s sufferers.
They can be emotionally relieving
One of the worst side effects of Parkinson’s disease is the emotional impact. Parkinson’s is a constant and cruel illness that can lead to depression, anxiety, stress and extreme frustration for people across the world. Seen as though Parkinson’s cannot be cured, it is crucial that people are able to accept their illness, and try to find happiness in life despite their curse. Massage therapy is relaxing, but it can also be emotionally therapeutic. It naturally reduces stress by lowering blood pressure and increasing blood flow, but also increases the production of vital hormones such as Oxytocin and Serotonin. Biologically, they increase the feeling of happiness and decrease stress and anxiety. Therefore, regular sessions, alongside medication, can improve the mentality and happiness of a Parkinson’s sufferer.
A study published in March 2016 looked to investigate the effects of massage therapy for Parkinson’s suffers, and whether it could alleviate tremors and rigidity.
Researchers took a 63 year-old woman with long standing Parkinson’s disease and gave her five sessions of massage therapy over the course of a month and a half. In order to measure changes, the researchers used a SPES/SCOPA Motor Impairments rating scale that is designed to monitor tremors before and after treatment as well as rigidity. The massages incorporated many different techniques into each session, including squeezing, stroking, relaxation techniques and deep movements- all within a soothing environment.
The results showed that massage therapy had a positive aftermath on the subject, reducing tremors both resting and postural/ similarly, the researchers found that they massage therapy temporarily reduced rigidity during the sessions. However, these effects were not long-lasting. Whilst further investigation and study is necessary, this particular case showed that massage therapy can improve the symptoms of people with this horrible illness. It was shown to greatly improve tremors, and also had temporary effects on rigidity. However, what’s to say more sessions wouldn’t help to make these benefits more long-lasting.
Popular massage styles
This is a form of massage that originated from Japan, but is classed as a traditional Chinese medicine. Shiatsu massage incorporates finger pressure into its routine which involves the elbows, thumbs, hands, feet and knees. This style is based around the theory of ‘Qi’ energy, which is believed to flow through the body’s ‘meridians’ which are passages. It is believed that when these channels become blocked, illness and disease can occur. Shiatsu massage aims to unblock the flow of energy and restore the body to health.
Swedish massage is known as the classic massage and is one of the most widely practiced styles in the world. It involves gentle stroking, kneading, gliding and tapping and is designed to be incredibly relaxing. Ultimately, Swedish massage is a great style for Parkinson’s sufferers because it can relax the muscles and the mind. It is described as being very therapeutic.
Maybe it’s the answer for you
If you’re suffering from Parkinson’s disease and feel like there’s no escape, perhaps massage therapy could ease your symptoms and lift your mood? Before you sign up for a session, discuss this with your doctor first and make sure you’re suitable for this kind of complimentary treatment. It could be the answer to your problem.