Complementary and Alternative Therapies

People with chronic diseases like Parkinson’s disease (PD) frequently turn to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to help them manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. However, medical professionals emphasize that PD should not be treated with alternative medicine alone. Used with traditional medicine, CAM may help relieve symptoms of PD. Some CAM approaches have the potential to interfere with some medications used to treat PD or could cause severe side effects, and 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

While the terms “complementary medicine” and “alternative medicine” are sometimes used interchangeably, they actually refer to different concepts. Alternative medicine is a term that means any medicinal products or practices that are not part of mainstream medicine given by medical doctors and allied health professionals, such as nurses or physical therapists. Alternative medicine has not necessarily been tested in clinical trials, and it is also defined by its use as an alternate to traditional medical care. Complementary medicine is used in combination with traditional medicine. There have been research studies on many alternative and complementary medicine practices to determine their effectiveness in treating a range of conditions, including Parkinson's disease. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not review alternative and complementary medicine therapies.2

Types of complementary and alternative medicine

People with PD use a variety of CAM approaches as they seek to relieve their symptoms from their disease, such as:

  • Massage - Massage is a general term that describes using 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.3,4
  • 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.3
  • 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. Because of potential side effects or interactions with PD medications, all dietary supplements, natural remedies, or herbs should be discussed with a doctor.5,6
  • Yoga – Yoga is a mind and body practice that originated in ancient India. There are several practices in yoga, usually combining physical poses, breathing techniques, meditation, and relaxation. Yoga may help people with PD to increase flexibility and balance.3
  • 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.3
  • 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.3
  • 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.3
  • Medical marijuana or CBD oil – Although medical marijuana, known also as medical cannabis, has had mixed clinical results, many people with PD find that it helps to alleviate certain PD symptoms, such as pain. In one study, relief was reported in pain reduction, improved sleep, and some psychological components. 6,7

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Written by: Emily Downward | Last reviewed: November 2020