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Complementary and Alternative Medicine Therapies for Parkinson’s Disease



Updated April 28, 2009

Complementary and Alternative Medicine Therapies for Parkinson’s Disease

Chinse martial arts like T’ai Chi are shown to have significant benefits to PD Patients. Be sure to see a trained professional though.

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Relaxation and Meditation Techniques

Living with PD can be stressful and with time, it can become more difficult to find ways to relax. Studies show that one way to relax is to actively attempt to do so by setting aside 20 minutes per day to just sit, watch your breath and then just let your mind wander. When you find your attention wandering just smile and bring it back to your breath…and that’s all you need to do each day.

You can add more intense relaxation exercises to these meditation sittings by simply turning your attention away from your breath and onto one body region at a time. Many persons with PD find it valuable to listen to "guided relaxation" tapes or CDs. Here the guide walks you through relaxation of one muscle group after another until your whole body has received attention and is relaxed.

Here are some other tips that may be helpful to you in your relaxation and meditation exercises:

  • Make relaxation and meditation a daily practice. 20 minutes each day without worrying about getting it "right"…just put in the time each day and your body will soon respond
  • Select a form of meditation that fits your fundamental beliefs. A Christian might visualize sitting in the presence of Jesus while an atheist might visualize sitting on a quiet sunlit beach…find an image that works for you, that gives you a sense of peace and well-being and then just bask in it.
  • Use a "mantra," or a short phrase, that has some spiritual content that you repeat over and over again, while you sit and breathe. Again choose a mantra that fits with your fundamental beliefs and that gives you comfort. A religious person might just repeat “Lord” over and over again, while an atheist might repeat “calm” over and over again.
  • Chinese Martial Arts

    One of the major problems for people with PD is postural instability. If you have difficulty maintaining your balance you might fall and hurt yourself. Strengthening your muscles through exercise can offset some of the postural problems associated with PD. Adding some training in Chinese martial arts techniques, in addition to your regular exercise regimen, may help you to better compensate for these postural problems AND strengthen your muscles more generally.

    Always check with your doctor before you attempt any of these martial arts training programs.

    T’ai Chi Chuan (TCC)

    TCC combines aspects of aerobic exercise and measured breathing with slow, dance-like movements derived from self-defense moves. The best way to learn TCC and related arts (like QiGong) is to learn it from a trained professional. There are now many Chinese martial arts centers in the major cities. Just make sure that your trainer has some certifications in the practice before signing on with him. To date studies have not shown significant motor benefits in Western PD patients as the techniques take so long to learn. But non-westerners and Chinese patients, who have been exposed to these martial arts programs for many years may derive more benefit. The jury is still out on these programs with respect to benefits for people with PD.


    Yoga exercise classes are now available in every major city in the West and probably in the East as well. To date no controlled studies of yoga for PD have been published. But it is possible that low-impact forms of Yoga may be helpful for PD. Yoga as taught in the West typically involves learning a series of body postures that allow for stretching and relaxing muscle groups. Yoga also involves spiritual and meditative exercises as well as attention to breath.

    As will all the other CAM therapies, find a practitioner who is certified in the yoga therapy he or she is offering. Ask him or her to modify the traditional yoga postures to accommodate your limitations.

    CAM therapies are worth looking into…but always in consultation with your doctor and caregiver. As more and more of these therapies come under scientific scrutiny there benefits and their risks will become better known. Check back here for the latest on CAM therapies used to treat PD symptoms. New discoveries are being made every day.


    Juncos, J.L. Complementary and alternative medicine. In: Parkinson’s Disease: Diagnosis and Clinical Management: Second Edition Edited by Stewart A Factor, DO and William J Weiner, MD. 2008 Demos Medical Publishing; pages 563-571.

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