Most people have witnessed the effects that Parkinson's disease has had on Michael J. Fox and Mohammad Ali. The tremors, gait abnormalities, and movement impairments are all very visible. But, pain is invisible and tends to be present in over 80% of the people afflicted with Parkinson's disease.
In the December 2008 issue of Pain, researchers explored the pain associated with Parkinson disease. In this study, 83% of their Parkinson's patients reported to have pain, all types of pain. Most of the pain was from the muscles and joints. And nearly 30% of the pain was coming from the nervous system. Interestingly, women with Parkinson's disease were more likely than men to have pain. (Scientist still cannot explain why women experience more pain than men.) The authors of this study concluded that caregivers need to be more attentive to assessing pain in people with Parkinson's disease. The pain may be invisible, but it is there over 80% of the time with this neurodegenerative disease process.
Now, that the pain in Parkinson's disease is under the spotlight. Treatment options need to be discussed. Of course, the usual suspects like physical therapy and medications are options. However, an interesting alternative has been getting some attention lately-Tai Chi. This type of martial arts focuses on slow rhythmic movements. These movements are considered to be very doable for those with early Parkinson's disease and potentially very beneficial. Recent studies have shown that Parkinson's patient who participated in Tai Chi had a reduced risk of falls, improved muscle function, improved mobility, and improved the sense of well-being. Furthermore, Tai Chi is known to reduce nerve pain because it helps to promote normal movement of the nerves as the limbs move. Sounds like Tai Chi might be the most ideal alternative treatment for Parkinson's disease because it treats both the visible movement disorder and the invisible pain.
The symptoms of Parkinson's disease do not always meet the eye. The associated pain can be just as debilitating as the shuffling, tremors, and staggering. Family, caregivers, and healthcare providers need to keep their minds wide open in order to "see" this disease in its entirety. With an open mind, alternative treatments for Parkinson's disease also become available, now and in the future.