Complimentary Therapies

Many people with Parkinson’s are interested in complementary therapies such as acupuncture, aromatherapy and herbal medicine. These non-conventional treatments are often based on centuries-old techniques.

Although there is little scientific evidence about their use as a form of Parkinson's therapy, many people with the condition seem to find complementary therapy techniques helpful, especially for relaxation and to reduce stress and depression. This section provides a guide to complementary therapies in general as well as specific techniques that people with Parkinson’s have tried. I personally know of people that have recommended each of the below treatments and found beneficial.

Always consult your doctor before trying any form of complementary therapy. Depending on how Parkinson’s affects you, some techniques may not be suitable, and some herbal medicines could react badly with medicines used to treat Parkinson’s.

Alexander Technique

The Alexander Technique aims to improve movement, posture, balance and coordination, through correcting movement habits to reduce – or even eliminate – stress and tension in your muscles. It teaches the best use of the body in daily activities such as sitting, standing, walking, lifting and speaking, educating the body to use an appropriate amount of effort and energy.

This ‘re-education’ of the mind and body does not require strength or physical exertion but it does involve commitment in order to overcome the tension induced by years of poor posture, and improper lifting, sitting and standing.

Alexander Technique teachers, although highly trained, are not medical advisors and do not make medical diagnoses.

(Source: Alexander Technique on

How can it help in Parkinson's?

When trained to work correctly, the body can move in a freer, lighter and healthier way which brings obvious benefits if your movement is impaired by Parkinson’s. However there is very little scientific evidence to confirm if the Alexander Technique is effective in Parkinson’s.

Practicing the technique may help with Parkinson’s symptoms such as tremor, balance, pain, speech, fatigue and depression, but each person will react differently to this treatment.

Carers may also benefit from the improved movement and emotional wellbeing associated with this technique.

In our Waterford 5 week “Helping People with Parkinson’s” Course, our resident Alexander Practitioner is Martin Kiely and can be contacted on +353 83 1223919 for private consultation.

“Thank you so much Martina, you have helped me to stand up from the chair with confidence and without support – something I have not done in years. Your teachings are fantastic and I highly recommend you” Eileen Nolan, 20th June 2018


A form of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture involves the therapist inserting ultra-fine metal needles into carefully chosen points on the body. It is commonly used to reduce pain and stiffness. It is also used to relieve digestive ailments, insomnia, depression and anxiety.

Acupuncturists believe that energy flows around the body (Chi) through channels. These channels can get blocked as a result of physical and emotional factors (such as anxiety and stress, poor nutrition, infections or trauma) which results in ill health and imbalances. Stimulating the acupuncture points with special needles is thought by many to stimulate nerves and muscles which in turn releases these blockages, restores energy flow and triggers healing.

(Source: Acupuncture on

How can it help in Parkinson's?

Anecdotal evidence suggests acupuncture can improve some Parkinson’s symptoms including tremor, walking difficulties, rigidity and pain. However there is currently insufficient scientific research to confirm whether or not it is effective in Parkinson’s.

Many people find that acupuncture increases energy levels, induces relaxation, improves appetite, mood and sleep, as well as an overall sense of wellbeing. There is also evidence that acupuncture reduces stress levels through the release of endorphins in the brain.

The effectiveness of acupuncture in relieving pain has been conclusively demonstrated and is now acknowledged worldwide. A national expert panel of the United States National Institutes of Health concluded in 1998 that there is clear evidence that needle acupuncture treatment is more effective and has fewer side effects for certain symptoms than conventional treatments.

Carers may also benefit from increased energy levels, improved appetite and sleep, enhanced relaxation, and an overall sense of wellbeing. An acupuncture session can be an ideal time to switch off and relax, or enjoy talking one-to-one with the therapist during treatment.


Aromatherapy is an ancient practice that uses essential oils (essences from aromatic plants) to improve physical, psychological and emotional well-being.

Each essential oil has distinctive therapeutic properties that are used to treat body and mind. Specific oils are associated with common conditions such as fatigue, muscular aches and pain, joint stiffness, stress, headache, insomnia, depression and anxiety, as well as enhancing overall levels of relaxation and circulation.

Aromatherapy is a complementary medicine which treats the whole person, not just the symptoms. It is a holistic treatment which can promote health and well-being in many different ways at the same time.

(Source: Aromatherapy on

How can it help in Parkinson’s?

People with Parkinson’s often turn to aromatherapy to improve their quality of life.

Even though there is little scientific research into the benefits of aromatherapy in Parkinson’s, benefits in the general population have been studied. Many people say they find it helps them to relax and is uplifting. If stress-related problems can be relieved then some Parkinson’s symptoms caused by stress may improve with aromatherapy.

There are two practical ways in which essential oils are administered:

  • through the skin using massage or simple skin application
  • through inhalation.

The molecules of the essential oils will travel into the bloodstream & metabolise in the body to promote physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

Aromatherapy is a specialised skill and individual requirements need to be considered when deciding which oils to use. Essential oils are extremely potent and must be used with care so always seek advice, follow instructions carefully and inform your doctor of any course of treatment.

The potential benefits of aromatherapy in Parkinson’s include:

  • Physical: muscular aches and pain, joint stiffness and pain, weakness of limbs, constipation, poor circulation and cramp can be treated through massage - either to the whole body or locally around the affected area.
  • Mental & emotional: depression, anxiety, insomnia, nausea and headache can be treated through massage and/or inhalation.

Bowen technique/ Bowen therapy

The Bowen technique, also known as Bowen therapy, is a holistic, hands-on, non-manipulative therapy that encourages the body to heal, realign and relax. The therapist uses their fingers and thumbs in precise areas to gently move your muscles, tendons or ligaments. These light movements aim to:

  • stimulate energy flow
  • enhance the body’s natural healing processes to restore balance
  • encourage the elimination of toxins and waste products
  • improve circulation
  • release tension
  • increase mobility.

The Bowen technique is not massage, acupressure or chiropractic. There is no manipulation, adjustment or hard or prolonged pressure. It is a subtle and relaxing treatment, gently moving the muscles and soft tissues. It is believed that by relaxing you physically, Bowen therapy allows emotional blocks to be released, as well as treating a much wider range of conditions including asthma, irritable bowel syndrome and migraine.

(Source: Bowen Technique on

How can it help in Parkinson’s?

There has so far been little academic research into the benefits of the Bowen Technique in Parkinson’s and further studies are required to establish if it is beneficial. Clinical evidence has shown it to be helpful more generally, in particular in relieving pain, stiffness, stress, anxiety and sleep problem. Many people with Parkinson’s say that they find the technique helpful in reducing their symptoms and promoting a sense of wellbeing and relaxation.

Like many other complementary therapies, the treatment does not set out to treat specific conditions or ailments. Instead, it treats the body as a whole, helping it to function better rather than overcoming a specific illness such as Parkinson’s. It is believed that the sequences of Bowen movements stimulate the body to heal itself.

To this end, family members or carers may find that the Bowen Technique can also help them with various ailments:

  • relieving stress, anxiety or depression
  • easing back, neck or shoulder pain caused by physically assisting the person they care for
  • help with moving the person with Parkinson's as the effort involved can be reduced.

Craniosacral therapy (CST)

Craniosacral therapy (CST) is a gentle, manual therapy that has evolved from osteopathy. It is sometimes known as ‘listening hands’. It uses touch to evaluate and rebalance both the craniosacral system ( the skull and spinal column, together with the membranes and fluid which surround and protect them) and the rest of the body’s systems, allowing unobstructed movement of all fluids, tissues and joints.

As a holistic therapy, it focuses on the body as a whole: body, mind and spirit. It recognises that all structures and functions of the body, including the organs, are related and that any imbalance or dysfunction in one part of the body will affect the way other parts of the body work. Therapists believe that when a part of the body is altered due to physical trauma, emotional stress or illness, this can be communicated throughout the body by the blood, nervous or hormonal systems, giving rise to imbalances. The gentle touch of the therapist helps to create optimum conditions for the body’s natural healing process, encouraging it to overcome such imbalances and restore the body’s natural harmony.

It is important to note that whilst CST and cranial osteopathy have developed from the same roots, a craniosacral therapist is not osteopathically trained and works more with the emotional and psychological aspects of the body. Cranial osteopaths train initially in osteopathy which has a more mechanical approach, and then completes postgraduate training in cranial work.

(Source: Craniosacral Therapy on

How can craniosacral therapy help in Parkinson's?

To date little scientific research has been conducted into Craniosacral therapy (CST) in Parkinson’s but anecdotal evidence suggests that it may improve vitality, enhance movement and co-ordination, reduce pain and fatigue, improve the immune, respiratory and digestive systems, and improve heart function. It has also been credited with reducing anxiety and panic attacks, headaches, depression, sleep disturbance and other stress-related symptoms and so enhancing wellbeing. This can of course be beneficial for both individuals and their families.

Brain specific CST may be effective in improving function of the nervous system and so reducing some Parkinson’s symptoms.

As there is no clear scientific research to support any benefits of CST, you should be very clear before treatment what you hope to achieve and evaluate effectiveness as treatment progresses, to see if it is beneficial for you.


Kinesiology is non-manipulative therapy which uses gentle, manual muscle testing (also known as muscle monitoring) to assess the body's energy flow (Chi) and identify any disruptions or imbalances. Kinesiologists believe that each of our muscles is connected to an organ, so if a muscle appears to be weak, they believe that this reflects a problem with the relevant organ. Kinesiology is a holistic treatment which looks at the body as a whole rather than at individual symptoms.

Muscle testing is the principal tool of kinesiology and a practitioner will apply gentle pressure to a contracted muscle to assess its responses – this should be neither painful nor uncomfortable. The way the muscle responds reveals any imbalances in the body’s energy pathways which the kinesiologist can then correct. These corrections take the form of a variety of simple yet effective techniques, including:

  • gentle massage
  • touching reflex or acupuncture
  • specific body movements to release the flow of energy
  • nutritional changes
  • the use of magnets
  • homeopathic remedies or flower essences
  • the power of thought.

By detecting imbalances which can then be corrected, kinesiology can be helpful in improving general health by:

  • increasing vitality and energy levels
  • preventing illness
  • improving posture and so reducing pain and joint problems
  • reducing stress and tension and so alleviating problems such as headaches and digestive issues
  • improving cognitive ability, alertness, co-ordination and brain function
  • improving nutrition and sensitivity or allergies.

Kinesiology does not interfere with medications and does not have side effects so is generally considered to be a safe treatment.

There are various branches of kinesiology but all use muscle testing and a holistic approach that promotes a personal healing process.

(Source: Kinesiology on

How can it help people in Parkinson's?

Some studies have suggested that kinesiology may be a useful diagnostic tool, but there is no clinical research so far into its validity with Parkinson’s. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that some people with the condition have found kinesiology improves their health and vitality, whilst reducing tension and depression.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that kinesiology can also improve gait disturbances, postural changes and imbalance, as well as muscle rigidity – all of which are common symptoms of Parkinson’s. Kinesiology aims to encourage better control of movement, improve balance and motor function, and to develop general wellbeing.

Each person will respond differently to this therapy so you will need to set clear goals and monitor if you think kinesiology is helping you.


Massage aims to stimulate the body through the skin, the body’s largest sensory organ. It is usually administered by hand (but it can also be given using the elbows and feet) and can be applied to any part of the body to heal injury, relieve psychological stress and tension, improve circulation, manage pain, relax muscle spasms and eliminate waste and toxins from the body.

There are many different massage techniques. Some are gentle, aiming to trigger the release of endorphins (the body's own painkillers) and promote a sense of relaxation and wellbeing. Other techniques are more vigorous to help stretch uncomfortable muscles, ease stiff joints and so improve mobility and flexibility.

Massage should not hurt, although you may experience some discomfort if pressure is applied. It is not suitable if you have certain medical conditions such as deep vein thrombosis, damaged blood vessels, bleeding disorders or you take blood thinners such as Warfarin. It is not suitable if you have weakened or fractured bones. If you have bruising or wounds you should wait for these to heal before having a massage.

(Source: Massage on

How can it help in Parkinson's?

Research suggests that massage can help to relieve the muscle stiffness and rigidity that is often found in Parkinson’s. It can also help reduce stress, promote relaxation and enable you to identify tension in your body, and so find ways to minimise or reduce this. Tension can make symptoms worse so it is important to keep it under control.

Massage can also be invigorating and stimulating, both for the mind and body. It is important to decide what effect you want – relaxing or stimulating – before your massage session starts!

Massage can work in two ways:

  • Mechanical actions in which the muscles and soft tissues of the body have pressure applied to them or are stretched using specific movements. This can help in breaking down ‘knotty’, fibrous tissue, keeping joints loose and connective tissue in good repair.
  • A reflex action in which massaging one part of the body has an effect on another part, for example massaging the neck can help with back pain, or massaging the lower back can help with leg pain. This works because nerve pathways connect various parts of the body and so massage can have a ‘knock on’ effect.

Massage benefits may include:

  • reduced stress, anxiety and depression
  • reduced pain
  • reduced constipation
  • improved flexibility and mobility
  • improved circulation and elimination of waste and toxins
  • improved quality of sleep
  • greater sense of self-awareness and wellbeing
  • Improved vitality.

These benefits can obviously be enjoyed by carers and family too.

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