Complementary and Alternative Therapies

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: May 2022

People with chronic diseases like Parkinson’s disease (PD) often turn to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to help them manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. However, doctors emphasize that PD should not be treated with alternative medicine alone.1

Used with traditional medicine, CAM may help relieve symptoms of PD. Some CAM approaches may interfere with drugs used to treat PD or cause severe side effects. People with PD should talk to their doctor about all therapies and practices they are using to manage their symptoms.1

The difference between alternative and complementary medicine

The terms “complementary medicine” and “alternative medicine” are sometimes used interchangeably. However, they refer to different concepts.

Alternative medicine is used in place of traditional medical care. It has not necessarily been tested in clinical trials. Complementary medicine is used along with traditional medicine.2

There have been research studies on many CAM practices to determine their effectiveness in treating many conditions, including Parkinson's disease. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not review CAM therapies.2

Types of complementary and alternative medicine

People with PD use a variety of CAM approaches as they seek to relieve symptoms of the condition, such as:3-7

  • Massage – Massage uses touch to press, rub, or manipulate the skin, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Massage is often used to reduce stress and pain and relieve muscle tension.
  • Acupuncture – Acupuncture is the use of thin needles inserted through the skin at strategic points on the body. It is a key component of traditional Chinese medicine and is most often used to treat pain.
  • Dietary supplements, natural remedies, or herbsDietary supplements are products that contain a dietary ingredient, such as a vitamin, mineral, amino acid, or herb. Herbal remedies refer to the use of plant and plant extracts. These products are taken by mouth and are intended to add nutritional value, help manage symptoms from PD, or improve general health and well-being. These products may cause side effects or interact with PD drugs, so talk to a doctor before taking them.
  • Yoga – Yoga is a mind/body practice that began in ancient India. Yoga may combine physical poses, breathing techniques, meditation, and relaxation. Yoga may help people with PD to increase flexibility and balance.
  • Tai chi – Tai chi is a form of exercise that comes from ancient China. It uses slow, flowing motions that may help people with PD improve balance, flexibility, and muscle strength.
  • Meditation – Meditation involves quieting the mind and may use images or words to focus on. Meditation may help reduce stress and improve a person’s sense of well-being.
  • Music or art therapy – Some people with PD use the arts, such as music, painting, or ceramics, to help them relax. Music therapy can also be helpful for walking or speech challenges experienced by people with PD.
  • Medical marijuana – Medical marijuana has had mixed clinical results. However, many people with PD find it helps reduce symptoms like pain. In one study, people using medical marijuana reported pain reduction, improved sleep, and some psychological benefits.

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