Chiropractic Adjustment for Parkinson's Disease
For more than a century, chiropractors have used spinal adjustments and other treatments to provide relief to patients with concerns ranging from back pain to menstrual cramps. As alternative medicine is becoming more mainstream in Western culture, people are now seeking chiropractic treatments for degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis. Although the treatments don’t actually slow the progression of a disease like Parkinson’s, patients can find reprieve from their symptoms and live an overall better quality of life.
Dr. Randall Davis, a chiropractor at the Center for Holistic Medicine (Holistic-Medicine.com), in Riverwoods/Deerfield, who also maintains a private practice, 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, using the spine as a lever to facilitate the chiropractic adjustment. The chiropractor can use his or her hands or an instrument that also applies the specific forces to engage in the adjustment.
“There are several elements to the adjustment, such as moving bones slightly and stretching and relaxing the muscles and ligaments. They also 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,” he says.
For someone with Parkinson’s, which has widespread physical effects, chiropractic treatments can drastically improve overall functioning. Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological condition that attacks the area of the brain which produces dopamine. “Without adequate dopamine, people will suffer from tremors or shaking of the hands, arms, legs, jaw and face, bradykinesia or slowness of movement, rigidity or stiffness of the limbs and trunk and postural instability or impaired balance and coordination,” according to Dr. Kristine Tohtz, the chiropractic director at Serenity Family Wellness in the West Loop (Serenity-Family.com). Tohtz, who also has a degree in acupuncture, says that chiropractic adjustments can help with some of the rigidity of the joints and muscles and also reduce the intensity of the tremors.
Chiropractor Dr. Kim Martin, DC, FASA, BCIM, CFMP, founder and clinical director of North Shore Health Solutions (NorthShoreHealthSolutions.com) in Northbrook, has worked with Parkinson’s patients for 16 years, and says that over a course of treatments, they can regain some of their strength.
“A patient presents with progressive loss of muscle control, which leads to trembling of the limbs, shaking of the head, stiffness in the body and slowness in movement and speech. As the condition gets worse, it may become difficult for a patient to walk because of balance issues and having trouble talking, swallowing and completing simple tasks like writing their name and buttoning their clothes. Chiropractic treatments relieve some of the pressure off bones and nerves, reducing symptoms,” she says.
People with Parkinson’s often have a distinctive gait. They are slow to start walking, have a stooped posture and slow, shuffling steps. Constantly leaning forward can have serious impact on the health of a patient’s back. “Over time, that puts more weight bearing on the discs and puts pressure on the nerves. A patient might have numbness and tingling in their arms. A chiropractic treatment can release this pressure and allow them to stand more upright and free them from pain,” says Dr. Sean Curry, a chiropractor who specializes in the importance of proper body communication at East Back Chiropractic (EastBankChiropractic.com), in downtown Chicago.
Curry says that his patients often have a significant loss of range of motion in their hips, lower back and sacroiliac joint, but part of the shuffling is also about fear. “They’re not confident they’re going to be able to take that step because their gross motor movements are compromised and they hesitate. I start all of my assessments with a neuromuscular functioning capacity exam, which gives us an understanding of their baseline abilities,” he says.
At Aligned Modern Health (AlignedModernHealth.com), in the West Loop, the focus is on overall functional assessments and treatments. Dr. Vince Roberts is the lead chiropractic physician there and has more than 17 years of experience working with patients will all kinds of symptoms. “If I detect a neurological issue such as Parkinson’s, I’ll refer them for further testing and treatment. Parkinson’s is also a disease of the motor system and affects how you posturally hold yourself up and how you move through space. In our offices we do adjustments, but we also do mobilization techniques and functional testing. We consider blood testing, intestinal health, the endocrine system, supplements, massage, acupuncture and traditional rehab. When things get more complex with a Parkinson’s patient, they’re in better hands if they also see a neurologist. If we just treat them with chiropractic adjustments, we’re being shortsighted,” says Roberts.
Roberts will often refer patients to other specialists in the practice to get complementary treatments. He works closely with Dr. Jessica Hehmeyer, who is a chiropractic doctor and also certified in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. Hehmeyer focuses on detoxification and reducing inflammation. “It is believed that people with Parkinson’s are genetically predisposed for compromised detoxification pathways, leading to increased toxic burden. Toxins are very damaging to the nervous system, and early exposure to heavy metals and pesticides is thought to increase your risk for the disease. Also, these individuals require an above-average amount of nutrients such as B vitamins and antioxidants, which are necessary for detoxification to occur.
“In working with patients with Parkinson’s disease, our first step is doing a urinary assessment for common toxins such as copper, mercury, lead, aluminum and pesticides. Our next step is minimizing exposure to toxins and using targeted nutrition and supplement interventions to address the problem at hand,” she says. Hehmeyer also encourages natural detoxification through sweating and stresses that exercise is vital for people with Parkinson’s.
Looking at the patient’s overall health and quality of life is key for any chiropractor. Martin says that besides chiropractic treatments, it’s important to look at the person’s entire physiology, and suggests her patients follow a gluten-free diet. Tohtz recommends an anti-inflammatory diet, regular exercise, stress reduction and a minimum of seven hours of sleep per night. Davis says that preventative care and regular follow-up treatments will improve the quality and lifestyle of the patient by allowing them to move more freely, be more active and go through their day with less pain and discomfort. Curry stresses that the best thing he can do it to help his patients live as optimally as possible through palliative approaches. “I treated an older man who not only was depressed, but he had trouble moving the muscles in his face. I told him that each time he came in, we had to tell each other a joke. He left my office laughing, which allowed him to feel like a normal person again.”
Carrie Jackson is an Evanston-based writer and frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings Chicago. Connect at CarrieJacksonWrites.com.