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Complementary and alternative medicine gains favor among PWP

More than 40% of people with Parkinson's (PWP), especially those under age 50, are turning to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to help them live well longer with Parkinson's disease. Rather than up the dose of Parkinson's medications, which tend to lose effectiveness over time, and cause adverse side effects at higher amounts, PWP are turning to massage therapy, Pilates, Tai Chi, and yoga to supplement their medications. Each has its own benefits.

As a rule, complementary medicine is used with conventional medicine, and alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medicine. As therapies are proven safe and effective, they move into the realm of conventional health care. Before trying a new therapy, ask your doctor about its safety and effectiveness.

Combining non-pharmacological/nonsurgical therapies with conventional medical treatments improves the physical well-being and quality of daily life for PWP. The latter involves managing depression, pain, and sleep disturbances as well the cardinal motor symptoms of Parkinson's.

Massage therapy relieves the muscle and joint stiffness that often accompanies Parkinson's, and reduces stress. Especially helpful for PWP are Shiatsu massage, which uses touch rather than needles on the same pressure points as acupuncture; and Swedish massage, which involves gently kneading the muscles of the back, neck, scalp and limbs.

Pilates uses controlled stretching to strengthen and lengthen muscles, and stabilize and lengthen the spine. This improves posture, and increases flexibility, circulation, and balance. Training can be adapted for people who have limited movement or who use wheel chairs.

Tai Chi's slow, flowing movements enhance balance and coordination, reducing the likelihood of falls; and help maintain flexibility, physical confidence, and relaxation.

Yoga increases awareness of body posture, alignment and patterns of movement. It increases flexibility and promotes relaxation.

Visit the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine for questions you can ask to help you select an appropriately certified CAM practitioner.



Discovering the benefits of massage therapy

My introduction to the power of massage therapy came in the form of a message on my answering machine left by a friend's elderly mother. Gushing like a schoolgirl talking about her first boyfriend, she urged me to immediately make an appointment with the massage therapist she had just seen. He was so nice, she said, he even let keep her clothes on, and still, she'd never felt anything so good in her life. I tried not to read too much into her words, but curiosity got the best of me and I checked him out for myself. He is as good as she said.

So, when he suggested that an ancient Chinese healing therapy called "massage cupping" might reduce the edema in my feet, ankles, and legs, I agreed to try it. Why not, neither diuretics nor comfy and fashionable compression stockings were doing the job.

To help drain the excess fluids, my therapist applied a special cup to my skin, attached to a small, hand-operated pump that sucked out the air, slightly lifting my skin from the muscle. He said I would feel a strong pulling sensation, but assured me it wouldn't be painful. That was before he saw the mountain of skin sucked up into the cup.

He also told me to expect some discoloration of the skin, but I don't think even he was prepared for the aftermath of my first treatment. My "cup kisses" looked like King Kong left hickey marks all over my back. Although they weren't painful, it took a week for them to disappear. Fortunately, I had no social engagements requiring that I wear a backless dress or a bikini that week.

Following each treatment, I had fewer and lighter cup kisses and the edema dissipated a little more. It is by no means gone, but the fluid is much more fluid, giving me some relief from the perpetual tightness I used to feel in my legs. Don't let this stop you from trying new therapies when the potential upside is greater than the downside.



World Parkinson's Congress

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