Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects movement. It develops gradually, often starting with a barely noticeable tremor in just one hand. The symptoms can vary from person to person and gradually develop, often unnoticed at first. Symptoms may begin on one side of the body and eventually affect both sides, although one side may remain worse than the other. Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include tremors, slowed or delayed movements, muscle rigidity, impaired posture and balance, speech problems, loss of automatic movements, and in later stages, dementia (impairment of memory and mental clarity). Parkinson’s symptoms tend to worsen as the disease progresses.
The reason for Parkinson’s disease is still a mystery, but genetics and environmental factors such as exposure to viruses and toxins seem to both contribute. People suffering from Parkinson’s disease show changes to neurotransmitters in the brain, such as dopamine and norepinephrine, resulting in reduced stimulation of the motor cortex, the area of our brain responsible for our movement. Parkinson’s disease typically develops in middle or later life, and is more common in men.
Treatment for Parkinson’s includes medications to manage the symptoms of the disease, physiotherapy to help with movement, massage therapy to relax rigid muscles, and in some cases, surgery. Lifestyle changes to diet and exercise may also be recommended. Yoga or tai chi can be particularly beneficial because they can help with flexibility and balance.
Chinese medicine classifies Parkinson’s disease as a type of convulsion or tremor. It is seen as a combination of constitutional (inherited) weakness combined with lifestyle factors such as overwork, diet, and emotional stress, which may be triggers to the development of the disease. Parkinson’s disease is broken down into 3 sub-categories according to the cause of the disease.
The first is a deficiency of qi-energy and blood, with specific symptoms of pronounced tremor of a limb, sallow complexion, staring look, occipital stiffness, limb cramping, uncoordinated walking, difficulty moving, dizziness, blurred vision, and sweating. In this case, an acupuncturist would work on building up the body’s qi-energy and nourish the blood in order to improve symptoms and healthy functioning of the body.
The second type is phlegm-heat, which produces symptoms of tremors, dizziness, sweating, dry mouth, staring look, feeling of oppression in the chest, yellow phlegm, obesity, and stiff neck and back. This type can be particularly brought on by diet, and treatment focuses on resolving the phlegm and clearing heat from the body to remove blockages.
The third type is liver and kidney-yin deficiency, resulting in dizziness, tinnitus, insomnia, headache, night sweats, restless mind, sore back and knees, numbness of limbs, head tremors, clenched teeth, poor memory, difficulty walking, and staring look. In this case, treatment must build up the body’s yin energy and the body’s energy circulation.
While Parkinson’s disease cannot be completely cured, regular acupuncture treatments can offer success in the control of symptoms and in slowing or halting the progression of the disease, depending on the type. The sooner treatment is begun after onset, the more success treatment may have. Acupuncture can complement Western medical treatment for Parkinson’s disease and help to improve the quality of life of those suffering from the disease.
Acupuncture can also help with the associated symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. People with Parkinson’s often also suffer from depression, sleep problems, urinary problems, and constipation, and acupuncture has shown positive results in all of these areas. While Parkinson’s is a complex disease, acupuncture can help to improve quality of life and overall health to better manage the condition.
James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, Kelowna, BC.