Most of us have a minimal understanding of what Parkinson's is and how it affects our system. With many prominent people coming forward and sharing their experiences of this disease and attempting to normalise it to the world so that we understand it and identify with it and in so doing, become more adept at being understanding of the symptoms and impacts that this condition has on people.
The condition itself is nominally called the 'shaking palsy' that gives rise to its telling symptomatic quality. The disorder involves a progressive degneration of the nerve tissue and the general decline of the brains ability to produce neurotransmitters that assist with normal nerve function in the body. Without neurotransmitters and synapses, nerve signals are unable to be conducted throughout the body and the pathways are impeded. This results in lack of movement, difficulty in motor function including bladder and fluid control, co-ordination as well as behavioural and cognitive function.
The lack of 'dopamine' in the brain is the primary factor of Parkinsons and this has another significant effect on mood and emotional balance as dopamine is one of the neurotransmitters that triggers the 'happy response' or 'pleasure' stimulation in the brain. Dopamine is highly significant in drug abuse issues due to drugs exhausting dopamine levels and sufferers being unable to 'feel happiness'.
This effect in Parkinson's is not the most prominent of issues as often we all associate Parkinsons with shaking or simple muscular control. Indeed this is one of the primary issues that is affected by Parkinson's but it is not the only factor. Non specific achiness, weakness and fatigue as well as tremors are listed as one of the primary symptoms of Parkinsons whereas many of us are unaware that these symptoms are affected by the disorder.
Other issues listed are Bradykinesia (difficulty in sustaining or initiating movement) which leaves sufferers literally 'glued to the spot' as they can visualise their legs moving to take a step but are unable to perform the task. Literally halted mid movement. The last issue noted as a Primary symptom is Rigidity, particularly in the flexor muscles of the trunk which can lead to a typically stooped posture of a Parkinsons sufferer.
The inability to release this hypotonic contraction can result in real postural change and issues in the ability of a sufferer to stand or sit erect This combined with Osteoporosis which is sadly common in many sufferers, renders victims with difficulty to grasp, hold, grip or control hand and body movements. This rigidity is different to the spasticity that is also a condition of Parkinsons but is more indicated to sufferers working with Bodyworkers as this condition can be treated by movement and sports therapists.
In regards to some of these symptoms, bodywork can play a huge role in managing symptoms relating to both physical issues of the hypertonic contractions as well as the mental and sensory issues associated with touch and therapy. The depressive nature of the disease and the isolation of physicality is a viscious circle and is one that massage therapists and bodyworkers can directly address. It's not just about getting tight muscles to release and relax, but about getting sensory perceptions to be activated, re-firing neural pathways and getting neurons to communicate and keep their pathways communicating. Touch is vitally important in these circumstances and just having a treatment can be a great alleviator to the isolation that these people can feel.
Sometimes its not always about the physical but also the emotional and sensory issues associated with a disease. There is no doubt that medication is required in terms of managing Parkinson's but as Margaret Power wrote in her detailed use of yoga therapy with Parkinsons sufferers, it is not about replacing medication or western approaches, but about delaying them. Particular yoga practices have been developed to stimulate neural pathways of Parkinsons sufferers and oddly enough, some of these workshops involve a lot of shaking. Not of the body but of objects. Vigorous shaking of blocks, objects, getting patients to move and stimulate nerves to maintain neural pathways and brain function for as long as possible.
These practices are developed to keep what is functioning at optimum levels. Far from replacing medication, this approach is done to 'delay the onset' for the need of medication. Finding natural intrinsic ways to stimulate and awaken neural pathways, keeping them firing and keeping the brain functioning so that the use of medical stimulants is way laid. When the time comes, yes the medication is necessary but allaying the use of it means that the sufferers quality of life is extended as one goes longer without the medication thus making it more effective when it actually comes time for that to occur.
As a bodywork and remedial therapist, touch is vital. Touch has a way of stimulating neurons and brain function. Being 'in touch' with your body directly targets the areas of the brain that are being affected by such conditions. Add to this the benefit of movement in a treatment with joints being bent and used and released from being in hypertonically stiff states and you can see the immediate benefit of soft tissue therapy.
So this condition has many guises and many elements that can be treated and addressed in various ways. Whilst we may not be the primary carers, we are definetly part of the team that can be brought into play to help people dealing with this condition. And the mere advantage of touch and sensory stimulation is often a great way to contribute to the quality of life of those who suffer from this condition.