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Complementary therapies

Although no treatments or therapies have been scientifically proven to slow, stop or reverse the progression of Parkinson’s, we have heard from many people with the condition who have had positive experiences of complementary therapies.

As with all treatments for Parkinson’s, different things work for different people. So we encourage anyone affected by the condition who is interested in complementary therapies to explore what works for them.

There are many complementary therapies available – too many for us to cover them all. So we have brought together the most popular therapies, chosen by people with Parkinson’s and their carers.

This information is designed to help you decide which complementary therapies, if any, are right for you. It also details how people use each therapy and where you can go to find out more.

Parkinson's UK does not endorse any particular therapies.

What are complementary therapies?

Complementary therapies are treatments used alongside conventional medicine. The term is often confused with alternative medicine, so here are some definitions.

Alternative medicine

A replacement for mainstream or conventional medicine, alternative medicine is based on historical or cultural traditions, rather than on scientific evidence. We would not recommend that you replace medication with an alternative treatment.

Integrated medicine

Some experts use the term 'integrated medicine' to emphasise that all therapies – conventional and complementary – are part of one process.

Complementary therapies

Complementary therapies can be used alongside your usual medical treatment.

Conventional medicine focuses on understanding and correcting the problems that are causing symptoms. Complementary therapies tend to take a more holistic approach. So, they aim to treat the whole person – mind, body and spirit – rather than just the symptoms.

Are complementary therapies beneficial?

There is no simple answer to this question. There are so many types of therapy, it is impossible to generalise.

There is evidence to show that some complementary therapies have benefits. For other therapies, there is no research to prove any benefits for people with Parkinson’s, yet we hear from many people affected who feel they are helpful to them.

It will also depend on what you expect from complementary therapies. For example, you may not feel a particular therapy is having a positive effect on your Parkinson’s symptoms. However, you may enjoy the experience and feel this is enough of a reason to continue, as the enjoyment is beneficial in itself.

The evidence about complementary therapies

Conventional medication goes through a thorough testing process before it is made available. It is tested in clinical trials and is required to meet scientific standards to prove it works, is acceptably safe and that common side effects are clearly stated on the patient information leaflet.

Unfortunately, complementary therapies are not as rigorously tested. Also, some therapies are not medicine-based, such as yoga, so it is impossible to test them in the same way.

Instead, researchers will look at a therapy and what practitioners say it can be used for. They then study it to see how effective it is when people use the therapy in this way.

Because each therapy is different, and because some therapies are more popular than others, the way these trials are run differs each time (for example, how many people are involved or what the researchers are testing and how).

This makes it impossible for us to compare therapies and tell you what does and does not work.

What evidence should I trust?

There is a lot of information about complementary therapies that claims to be based on scientific evidence, especially on the internet. But not all of it is reliable.

To help make sure you’re reading information that is accurate, useful and not misleading, consider the following.

  • Where is the research published? Research should normally be ‘peer-reviewed’ in professional journals. This means other experts who were not involved in the study reviewed it before the details were released.
  • How many patients did the study look at? Studies with just a few patients are not as reliable as larger ones.
  • Is this a one-off result by one research group or has it been confirmed by other scientists?

If you’re still in doubt, you can contact the Research team at Parkinson’s UK. They can try to provide more answers on research that relates to the complementary therapy you are interested in.

So why include therapies with no scientific evidence?

The therapies listed below have all been chosen because they are popular with people affected by Parkinson’s.

Just because a therapy cannot be proven to work in a medical trial, or there has not been enough research about whether it helps people with Parkinson’s, does not mean you won’t find it useful. In fact, we’ve heard from many people who tell us they have benefited from using these therapies.

For example, some people have told us that therapies can help to manage symptoms, reduce stress and provide an overall sense of wellbeing.

And many of our local groups organise complementary therapy sessions at their meetings to encourage people to give them a try.

Why do people use complementary therapies?

There are many reasons why people may use complementary therapies alongside prescribed medication, including:

  • they feel conventional medicine isn’t controlling their symptoms
  • they view complementary therapy as a way of taking control of their own health
  • they enjoy the social aspect of having group therapy sessions, such as yoga classes, or they see it as a way of having time to themselves
  • they find complementary therapies relaxing. This can be very useful as stress can make Parkinson’s symptoms worse

Can complementary therapies replace my Parkinson’s medication?

No, complementary therapies do not work as a replacement for Parkinson’s medication. Stopping or making changes to your Parkinson’s medication can be dangerous if it is not done under the guidance of your specialist or Parkinson’s nurse.

Are complementary therapies safe?

Generally speaking, the complementary therapies listed here are considered safe.

But if you want to take anything by mouth or apply it to your skin, check with your GP, specialist or Parkinson’s nurse first. This is because some herbs and remedies may have side effects or clash with medications you’re already taking.

For example, St John’s Wort, which is a herbal remedy for depression, can react with some Parkinson’s medications.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency can provide news and updates about safety. This is the government agency responsible for making sure that medicines and medical devices work and are safe.

Some complementary therapies, such as herbal remedies, may not be safe to take during pregnancy. So make sure you tell your GP, specialist or Parkinson’s nurse if you are trying for or expecting a baby. You should also tell your complementary therapist, if you have one.

It is always advisable to talk to a healthcare professional if you are considering a complementary therapy. It may alert them to problems they didn’t know about and they may be able to do something to help, such as making adjustments to your medication regime. They may even be able to recommend a therapist, or tell you where to go to find out more.

Knowing what is safe and what isn’t can be confusing. Many organisations offering therapy sound official when they are not. So it is important that you check the therapist you are seeing is reputable, insured and, where relevant, belongs to a regulatory body.

If the government doesn’t regulate a particular therapy, is it unsafe? 

No, some complementary therapies are regulated by statutory law, including osteopaths, chiropractors and art therapists.

This means that, in the same way GPs and specialists have to register with the General Medical Council, these therapists must be registered with a governing body before they can practise.

There are various reasons why other complementary therapists do not have this statutory regulation. And it isn’t necessarily because the therapies don’t work.

For example, the government looked into regulating acupuncture and decided acupuncturists were so well self-regulated that government intervention was not needed.

The Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council

The Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC) was established with government support to regulate some therapies.

The Department of Health in England recommends that you should consult a therapist registered with the council, where appropriate. Some of the therapies regulated by the council include:

  • Alexander Technique
  • aromatherapy
  • Bowen therapy
  • massage therapy
  • reflexology
  • reiki
  • shiatsu
  • yoga therapy

How do I find a good therapist?

You should always make sure you go to a trained, registered (where relevant) and fully insured therapist. To find a reputable, qualified therapist you may find it helpful to ask:

  • someone else with Parkinson’s, a friend or family member
  • your GP, specialist, Parkinson’s nurse or other healthcare professionals who may be able to recommend someone. Many hospitals and GP surgeries now work together with complementary therapists
  • your Parkinson’s local adviser, who may also be able to help

Some complementary therapists use a ‘Dr’ title, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have studied conventional medicine. An honest, reliable practitioner will not mind you asking about their qualifications.

Professional associations

Many therapists choose to join reputable, professional organisations.

These organisations can be useful sources of information. Just be wary that some organisations may make claims that are not backed up by good evidence.

In the therapy information below we have included many professional organisations. But if you’d like to do your own research, it may help you to remember that a high-quality professional association requires its members to:

  • complete some kind of formal qualification, which will usually include a training programme and an exam
  • stay up to date in their field by continuing their professional training and development
  • follow a code of ethics and professional conduct
  • have insurance
  • report side effects when they occur

When you find a therapist, there are a few things you should ask them, including:

  • any risks associated with your treatment and what steps they take to prevent problems
  • what professional organisations they are registered with
  • how much they cost
  • how long the treatment plan will last

Finally, it’s important you find a therapist that you feel comfortable with and who you like. This will help make your therapy a more successful and enjoyable experience.

How much do they cost?

Some therapies are available through your local health services, and some are not. This will depend on the type of therapy you want and the policy in your area.

Hospitals and GP practices sometimes offer a few complementary therapies, such as acupuncture, aromatherapy, massage, osteopathy and chiropractic treatments.

Speak to your GP, specialist or Parkinson’s nurse to find out what is available locally. Your Parkinson's local adviser may also be able to help you.

If you cannot get your chosen therapy through your local health services, you may have to pay. Costs for complementary therapies will vary, depending on the type of therapy you want, how long you need treatment for and where you live.

Your first session of any therapy may cost more because they often take longer. This is because your therapist will want extra time to get to know you and hear your medical history.

You may find it useful to ask when you can expect to feel any improvement – and when to call it a day if you do not see the results you hoped for.

Private health insurance may pay for some types of complementary therapy. Before you book a treatment session, ask your insurer if it is covered by your policy and how payment is arranged.

I’m a carer. Would I benefit from using complementary therapies?

We’ve heard from many carers who have tried complementary therapies, some of whom have had very positive experiences. Again, it is a personal choice.

If you care for someone with Parkinson’s, it's important to look after your physical and mental health. You may find that complementary therapies are a great way to have time to yourself, reduce stress and do something you enjoy.

In some areas, the NHS, local councils and charities offer free or low cost therapies to carers. Speak to your GP, specialist or Parkinson’s nurse about what is available in your area.

Our Parkinson's local advisers can also provide details and links to local services. They provide support for anyone affected by Parkinson’s.

What are the main complementary therapies used by people with Parkinson’s?

Below are some complementary therapies you may find helpful. Please remember that although we have included them here, we cannot recommend any particular therapy.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a form of ancient Chinese medicine. It involves a therapist inserting thin needles at particular points on your body.

Traditional practitioners believe that energy flows around your body through channels. When these channels get blocked it can make you ill, and they believe acupuncture can unblock them.

Some scientists believe the needles act to stimulate muscles and nerves, which is what causes the effects.

The needles are very fine, so you shouldn’t feel any significant pain. They are stimulated manually by using heat, pressure, electrical currents or laser light.

How might Acupuncture help?

Acupuncture is used is to control and relieve pain. This includes headaches, joint pain and neck pain. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) provides guidelines to the NHS. They recommend acupuncture for lower back pain.

It is also used for depression, anxiety and sleeping problems. Research has been done to find out how acupuncture can help people with Parkinson’s, but at the moment, there isn’t enough evidence to say whether or not it is effective.

Is Acupuncture safe?

There can be some small side effects, but these don’t tend to last very long. They include slight pain, bleeding or bruising where the needle has pierced the skin and drowsiness after treatment.

Serious complications, such as infections or damage to tissue, can happen, but are rare. Just make sure your acupuncturist is fully qualified and that they use disposable needles at every treatment session.

Acupuncture is not regulated by the government. In 2009, the Secretary of State for Health said the self-regulation of acupuncture was robust and government regulation was not needed.

As acupuncture involves piercing the skin, all acupuncturists have to register with their local authority for health and safety reasons.

Acupuncturists can also voluntarily register with a number of regulatory bodies, all of which have guidelines and codes of conduct.

Some healthcare professionals, such as doctors and physiotherapists, offer acupuncture to their patients alongside regular medical treatment.

Useful contacts

  • British Medical Acupuncture Society (BMAS) 
    This registered charity encourages the use and scientific understanding of acupuncture within medicine. Members are regulated healthcare professionals who carry out acupuncture as part of their practice.

The Alexander Technique

The Alexander Technique teaches you how to change your movements to help you relieve stress and tension in your muscles.

It makes you think about how you move and speak, and looks at your posture, balance and ease of movement.

Your teacher will probably ask you to perform some simple movements before guiding your body as you move to relieve tension. Sessions can be provided on a one-to-one basis or in a group setting.

How might the alexander technique help?

Evidence from one scientific study of fewer than 100 people indicated that the Alexander Technique may help to relieve symptoms of Parkinson’s, including pain, tremor, depression, and speech and balance problems. However, this study has not been repeated.

Is the alexander technique safe?

Alexander Technique lessons shouldn’t be painful.

Teachers of the Alexander Technique are not regulated by the government, but they can register with the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council.

Useful contacts

Aromatherapy

Aromatherapists use essential oils from plants to treat symptoms such as anxiety, stress, sleeping problems and depression. The oils are diluted and can be massaged into the skin, inhaled or used in creams or in the bath.

The theory is that the oils have chemical properties which can have a positive effect on your physical and mental health.

How might aromatherapy help?

Many people use aromatherapy to help them relax. There hasn’t been much research on how aromatherapy may help with Parkinson’s.

Research suggests it can have a mild temporary calming effect for anxiety, but a 2012 study decided the evidence available was not good enough to prove aromatherapy could effectively treat any condition.

Aromatherapy is one of the more commonly offered therapies in NHS hospitals within complementary medicine programmes. Speak to your GP, specialist or Parkinson’s nurse about what's available in your area.

Is aromatherapy safe?

Aromatherapy is generally very safe. But essential oils are highly concentrated, so it’s important not to swallow them.

Essential oils should also be diluted before they are applied to your skin, to avoid irritation. Some people may experience an allergic reaction to them. Speak to your GP, specialist or Parkinson’s nurse before you use them, especially if you’re pregnant or have epilepsy, heart problems, high blood pressure, asthma or diabetes.

Aromatherapists are not regulated by the government, but they can register with the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council.

Useful contacts

Art therapy

Art therapy is different to an art class. It's a form of psychotherapy that uses art as a way of communicating feelings and thoughts. An art class is a hobby that you do for fun.

Sessions can be held in groups or individually, and are run by qualified art therapists. Art therapists believe it is a great way of expressing specific emotional or physical issues.

How might art therapy help?

There is evidence that art therapy can be helpful to people with depression or stress.

There is no evidence, however, to suggest art therapy can help people with Parkinson’s. But we’ve heard from many people living with the condition who have found that being creative helps them to focus their mind, relax and express their emotions in a positive way.

Is art therapy safe?

Arts therapies are regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and are available through the NHS.

The HCPC is a government body that regulates health professionals, in the same way the General Medical Council regulates GPs and specialists. Art therapists must be registered to practise.

Useful contacts

Ayurveda

Ayurveda is a traditional Indian medical system that is still used today. It is called a system because more than one technique is involved. Which technique is used depends on the person being treated.

Ayurveda can combine treatments such as diet and lifestyle advice, herb supplements, and physical treatments such as full body massage and meditation.

The aim is to cleanse the body, reduce symptoms, increase resistance to disease and promote mental calm.

How might Ayurveda help?

People use Ayurveda to build and maintain an overall sense of good health and wellbeing.

There have been some small studies of Ayurveda, but so far none of them have been of a good enough quality to prove its effectiveness.

Is Ayurveda safe?

Some of the therapies used in this treatment may react with certain medications. So it's important that you talk to your GP, specialist or Parkinson’s nurse before you start treatment.

The UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has issued warnings about dangerous or contaminated supplies of Ayurvedic medicines in the past. You may find it helpful to look online at if you have any concerns.

Currently, Ayurveda practitioners are not regulated by law. You will need to check your therapist is registered with a professional body and is insured.

Useful contacts

Bowen technique

Bowen technique is a very gentle, touch-based therapy. The practitioner will use their fingers and thumbs to make small, rolling movements over precise points on your body.

It is a drug-free, non-invasive therapy that aims to restore balance in your body by manipulating your muscles and tissue.

How might Bowen technique help?

Bowen may be used for a range of physical and emotional conditions, including pain, muscular problems, stress and difficulty in sleeping.

Although there have been some studies into using Bowen for pain relief and stress, the studies have been small. A recent review of the evidence said more detailed studies were needed.

There have been no scientific studies to support the use of Bowen therapy in Parkinson’s. However, people with Parkinson’s have found Bowen useful for helping them with their symptoms.

Is Bowen technique safe?

Bowen therapists are not currently regulated by law, but they can register with the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council.

Useful contacts

Chiropractic

Chiropractors believe the spine influences all aspects of your health, so chiropractic treatment focuses on bringing your bones, joints, muscles and nervous system into balance. Chiropractors tend to focus on the area around your spine, using spine manipulation.

Typically, your first session will involve an assessment of your health and medical history, and a physical examination. The chiropractor will then use manual techniques to manipulate the spine. They may also work on joints, muscles and soft tissues.

Chiropractors may give you advice on health, diet, exercise and lifestyle.                                 

How might Chiropractic help?

Chiropractic is commonly used for conditions affecting the muscles, bones and joints. Most people use chiropractic to relieve pain, especially back and neck pain. There is evidence that chiropractic can help with lower back pain.

Some chiropractors use the treatment for mental health conditions, such as phobias, depression or anxiety. There are no studies on the effects of chiropractic on people with Parkinson’s.

Is Chiropractic safe?

There is statutory regulation for chiropractic in the UK. This means it is illegal for anyone to practise chiropractic or to call themselves a chiropractor unless they are registered with the General Chiropractic Council.

Chiropractic sessions are not usually painful, but some people may experience mild side effects afterwards, which usually disappear within 24 hours. These may include headaches, stiffness, pain and fatigue.

There have been reports that some manipulation techniques, mainly those applied to the neck, have caused serious complications, such as spinal injury or strokes, but these instances are rare.

People with weak bones or fractures should not have chiropractic treatment. It is also unsuitable for people with some spinal problems, or if you are taking blood-thinning medicine, such as warfarin.

Useful contacts

  • Chiropractic is available on the NHS in some areas. Ask your GP, specialist or Parkinson’s nurse about availability. Be aware that funding is limited and most people pay for chiropractic if they choose this as a treatment option.
  • General Chiropractic Council
    This organisation regulates the chiropractic profession. You can contact them to find out more about chiropractic, find a chiropractor near you or to check if a chiropractor is registered.

Conductive education

Conductive education is a rehabilitation system that started in Hungary in the 1940s. As the name suggests, the system takes an educational approach, rather than a therapeutic one.

It aims to teach adults and children with neurological conditions that cause difficulties with movement, such as Parkinson’s, how to overcome everyday problems.

How might conductive education help?

Some people find that conductive education can help control the physical symptoms of Parkinson’s, including tremor, rigidity and slowness of movement.

Although conductive education is quite established as a treatment for Parkinson’s, there is not much medical evidence to back it up. Studies are needed to prove its effectiveness.

Because conductive education teaches strategies to aid movement and overcoming everyday problems, it may help some people feel more confident and independent.

Is conductive education safe?

Always check your conductor is registered with a professional body and is insured.

Useful contacts

Dance therapy

Dance therapy, as the name suggests, uses dance as a way of treating some physical and mental conditions.

Many people enjoy dancing as a form of exercise and as a social activity. But research suggests that some forms of dancing, such as tango, may have specific benefits for people with Parkinson’s.

How might Dance therapy help?

Although there hasn’t been a lot of research done in this area, studies have indicated that dancing can improve balance and the way you walk. It has also been suggested that dancing can improve your quality of life.

Research is now ongoing to get a better understanding of how and which types of dance and movement are suitable for people with Parkinson’s.

We’ve heard from many people with Parkinson’s who have found dancing therapeutic. Some have told us about how it has helped them to move more freely, while others have enjoyed the social aspect of group dance classes.

You may wish to join a dance class or you may prefer to improvise in your own home.

Is Dance therapy safe?

Always check your dance teacher has a valid qualification and is insured.

Useful contacts

Feldenkrais method

The idea of Feldenkrais is that by becoming more aware of your own movements, you can improve your mobility and general wellbeing.

The method is based on martial arts theory and has been developed to help people with everyday problems, such as difficulties with balance or turning over in bed.

This method is seen as more of an education than a therapy. Lessons may involve doing a sequence of movements that involve thinking, sensing, moving and imagining.

How might Feldenkrais help?

There have been studies that show Feldenkrais helps with balance and mobility. People also use this method to find relief from tension and pain, to improve breathing and performance, and for general wellbeing.

As yet, there have been no studies specifically looking at how Feldenkrais helps those living with Parkinson’s.

Is Feldenkrais safe?

Feldenkrais is generally safe for everyone. But check your teacher is registered with a professional body and is insured.

Useful contacts

Herbal medicine

Herbal medicine is the use of plants and plant extracts to treat illnesses. Herbal medicines can be quite powerful. Many of today’s common drugs come from plants or are based on chemicals found in them.

You can find herbal medicines at local health food shops or chemists. You may also choose to see a herbalist.

Herbalists prescribe often complex herbal mixtures to be taken as drops, capsules or tea. The herbalist may also recommend diet, exercise and lifestyle measures.

How might Herbal medicine help?

Herbs are used for a wide variety of conditions. There is some evidence that certain herbs may help with depression and skin conditions. But there is no good evidence that the mixtures prescribed by traditional herbalists are effective.

Small trials have been carried out with plants commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine to relieve Parkinson’s symptoms.

Although more research is needed, there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that herbs may be helpful in the treatment of Parkinson’s symptoms.

Is Herbal medicine safe?

It is important to speak to your GP, specialist or Parkinson’s nurse before taking any herbal medicines or supplements, even if purchased at a local chemist or health food shop.

This is because some of them may have serious side effects or may interfere with your usual medication.

For example, the herbal remedy St John’s Wort, which can be used for depression, is not recommended for people with certain other health problems, including Parkinson’s.

Some herbal medicines should not be taken in pregnancy, so, again, check with your GP.

It’s important to make sure your herbal medicine comes from a reliable source. The UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has found supplies of contaminated herbs in the past. Your GP may also know about any recent alerts, so it may be helpful to ask them.

Herbalists are not regulated by law. Check your herbalist is insured and registered with one of the organisations in the contacts list below.

Useful contacts

Homeopathy

Homeopaths believe symptoms can be cured by giving someone an extremely diluted dose of a remedy that, in large doses, would trigger the symptoms. For example, one homeopathic remedy made from female bees (including the stinger) is used to treat swelling and stinging pains.

They believe the ‘like for like’ principle stimulates the body’s own healing power so that it clears itself of any imbalance. The remedies come from various sources, including plants, animals and minerals.

Homeopathy is usually taken in pill form, but is also available as a liquid or powder. You may be prescribed a homeopathic gel or cream for use on the skin.

How might Homeopathy help?

Homeopaths believe homeopathy can help with any condition in which the body has the potential to self-repair. As a result, they suggest homeopathy can be used to treat a wide range of acute and chronic medical conditions.

There have been many studies of homeopathy, but none have been conclusive. No studies have been carried out on homeopathy's effectiveness in reducing Parkinson’s symptoms.

Despite the lack of evidence, homeopathy is popular. It is available on the NHS, as well as privately. There are three NHS homeopathic hospitals in the UK, based in Bristol, London and Glasgow. Some GP practices also offer homeopathic treatment.

Speak to your GP, specialist or Parkinson’s nurse about whether homeopathy is available on the NHS in your area.

Is Homeopathy safe?

Although we could not find any research to suggest homeopathic medicines would react with Parkinson’s medication, you should always speak to your GP, Parkinson’s nurse or specialist before taking any kind of medication.

Some health professionals are trained in homeopathy and use it alongside medical treatment. These can include doctors, nurses and pharmacists. They are all regulated by their relevant professional bodies. For example, GPs are regulated by the General Medical Council.

However, some homeopaths are not medically qualified. Currently, there are no national standards of training and accreditation for these practitioners. If you decide to see a homeopath who is not medically qualified, you should check they are insured and registered with a professional body.

Useful contacts

Kinesiology

Kinesiology means ‘the study of body movement’. There are different types of kinesiology and the treatment you receive will depend on what type of kinesiologist you see.

Kinesiologists believe each muscle is connected to an organ. They apply pressure to different parts of the body to see how the muscle responds. If the muscle is weak, they believe it means there is a problem with the organ. It is sometimes known as muscle testing.

How muscles respond to gentle pressure reveals how the whole body is functioning and helps locate any imbalance.

At the end of the session you may be advised on lifestyle changes (particularly dietary changes), be given specific exercises to do, or be recommended supplements.

How might kinesiology help?

People use kinesiology to diagnose and treat all sorts of health problems.

The studies on kinesiology aren’t of a good quality and haven’t been able to demonstrate that it is effective.

Is kinesiology safe?

Kinesiologists are not currently regulated by law. You will need to check your therapist is registered with a professional body and is insured.

Useful contacts

Laughter therapy

Laughter therapy is the use of exercise techniques to stimulate the body into laughter.

The idea is that these techniques can help to boost your immune system, improve respiration and circulation, encourage positive thinking, and help you to relax.

How might Laughter therapy help?

There is little research on the benefits of laughter for people with Parkinson’s. But there is evidence to suggest that laughter helps to release ‘endorphins’ – chemicals that can improve your mood and may relieve pain.

Is Laughter therapy safe?

There are no safety issues with this type of therapy. Currently, laughter therapy is not regulated by law and there are no official qualifications in laughter therapy.

Useful contacts

  • The Laughter Network
    This is a non-profit organisation formed to spread and promote laughter. You can contact them to ask about laughter therapists in your area, but please note the organisation does not vet members, who must take full responsibility for their own work, experience, clients and insurance.

Massage therapy

People have used massage for thousands of years to heal injuries, promote relaxation and encourage better movement. There are many different types of massage from traditions around the world.

A massage therapist may use various techniques, including stroking, kneading and rubbing, to manipulate the body using pressure.

Some types of massage are gentle and some are vigorous, like deep tissue massage. Massages may focus on one area or the whole body.

How might Massage therapy help?

Research has suggested that massage therapy may help to reduce pain and feelings of anxiety and depression, and improve movement and flexibility.

Research has also suggested that massage therapy, especially abdominal massage, can help with constipation.

Many people with Parkinson’s and their carers have told us they find massage therapy useful as a way to relax and have time to themselves.

Is Massage therapy safe?

Massage therapy shouldn’t hurt, although you may experience some discomfort if pressure is applied to injured areas, or where your body is very tense.

Massage may not suitable for people with certain medical conditions. These include a history of blood clots, or weak or broken bones.

If you have wounds or bruises, you should wait until these are healed before you book a massage appointment.

Massage therapists are not currently regulated by law. You will need to check your therapist is registered with a professional body and is insured.

Useful contacts

  • General Council for Massage Therapies
    This organisation is the governing body for massage therapies and all bodyworks and soft tissue techniques in the UK. Contact them to find a massage therapist local to you and to find links to other professional organisations for massage therapy.

Meditation and relaxation techniques

People have used meditation for thousands of years in cultures around the world. It is often associated with religion and spirituality.

In modern times, more people have started using meditation simply for health reasons.

There are many forms of meditation but they all aim to create a sense of calm. During meditation, the mind is in a state of restful alertness while the body becomes more relaxed.

You can meditate in a group or alone. A related technique is guided imagery or visualisation (forming pictures in your mind). This is sometimes combined with muscle relaxation.

T’ai chi and yoga are two kinds of exercise that have elements of meditation.

How might Meditation and relaxation techniques help?

People use meditation to relieve pain, stress, depression and problems sleeping, and to achieve a general sense of wellbeing.

Most studies of meditation have not been well designed, but there is some evidence that meditation or related techniques can help with pain and anxiety.

Are Meditation and relaxation techniques safe?

People with mental health issues should take professional advice before starting meditation.

Currently, meditation teachers are not regulated by law. You will need to check the therapist is registered with a professional body and is insured.

Useful contacts

There are many different types of meditation classes. It is not possible to list them all here, or suggest which type would be best for you.

  • In hospitals or community centres that provide complementary therapies, relaxation and meditation are frequently offered. Ask your GP, specialist or Parkinson’s nurse if they know where you could take a class.

Music therapy

Music therapy is the use of music by trained professionals as a treatment for some physical and mental conditions. You don’t need to know anything about music to enjoy music therapy.

How might Music therapy help?

It has been suggested that music can improve movement and speech problems, and help people to relax or talk about feelings or ideas they have.

Some people with Parkinson’s find that listening to strong rhythmic music can improve their walking, prevent hesitations and help them overcome freezing episodes.

There have been several small studies of music therapy in Parkinson’s. Some of these studies had promising results. In general, research indicates that music seems to help people with conditions such as Parkinson’s by improving their emotional sense of wellbeing.

Is music therapy safe?

Music therapists are regulated by the government’s Health and Care Professions Council and must be registered to practise.

Useful contacts

Osteopathy

Osteopaths stretch, move and massage muscles and joints to treat health problems. They will use their hands to find areas of tenderness, restriction or strain in your body.

How might Osteopathy help?

Osteopathy is commonly used for conditions caused by problems with the nerves, joints and muscles, such as back and neck problems, joint pain or injuries.

Clinical guidelines recommend osteopathy to be considered as a treatment for back pain.

Some osteopaths believe it can also be used to relieve general health problems, such as ear, nose and throat problems, headaches and digestive disorders, but there is no good evidence that this is true.

Is Osteopathy safe?

All UK osteopaths must be qualified and registered with the General Osteopathic Council.

Generally, osteopathy is classed as safe. There have been reports that some manipulation techniques, mainly those applied to the neck, have caused serious complications, such as spinal injury or strokes. This is rare, but it’s important to check your osteopath is qualified.

Some osteopathic manipulations are not suitable for people with bone problems, bleeding disorders or other conditions. Osteopathy is also not recommended for people on blood thinning medication, such as warfarin.

Let your osteopath know about any health problems you have and what medication you are taking. After a treatment, you may feel some mild side effects, such as stiffness, discomfort or tiredness.

Useful contacts

  • Osteopathy is available in some areas on the NHS, though most people will have to pay for private treatment. Ask your GP, specialist or Parkinson’s nurse about what is available in your area.
  • General Osteopathic Council
    The General Osteopathic Council regulates the practice of osteopathy in the UK. The website features information about osteopathy, how to find qualified practitioners and what to expect from a treatment session.

Pilates

Pilates is a gentle exercise that focuses on stretching and strengthening the body to improve balance, muscle strength, flexibility and posture.

Pilates is suitable for people of all ages and all levels of fitness. You can study Pilates one-to-one or in a class. You can also do Pilates at home, though we recommend you learn the moves from a qualified instructor first.

How might Pilates help?

People who practise Pilates claim that it can help with your muscle tone, flexibility, core strength and joint mobility, as well as relieve stress and tension.

There isn’t much evidence to show any specific benefits of Pilates for people with Parkinson’s. An article from 2009 argues that exercise such as Pilates can help with the mobility symptoms associated with Parkinson’s, although no clinical studies have been carried out.

Is Pilates safe?

Pilates is a gentle, low-impact form of exercise. Classes are sometimes separated into beginners and advanced sessions, so make sure you find a class that matches your ability.

The Pilates Foundation recommends that if you are pregnant you should check with your doctor and speak to the Pilates teacher before starting.

Pilates instructors are not regulated by law, so check your teacher is registered with a professional body and is insured.

Useful contacts

  • Pilates classes are available throughout the UK at local leisure and community centres, although these may not be tailored for people with health problems.
  • There may also be Pilates studios in your area.
  • The Pilates Foundation
    This is a not-for-profit organisation, bringing qualified Pilates teachers together. All members are accredited and must follow a strict code of ethics and code of conduct. Contact the organisation to find out more about Pilates and to find a qualified instructor in your area.

Reflexology

Reflexology is based on the idea that areas on the feet, hands and ears match up to another part of the body. So a reflexologist uses their hands to apply pressure to the feet, hands or ears to treat the whole person.

One way of thinking about reflexology is to see the feet, hands and ears as a potential miniature map of the entire body, made up of zones. Reflexologists concentrate on the zones that are relevant to your health problems.

How might Reflexology help?

Reflexology is often used to promote relaxation, improve circulation, stimulate vital organs and encourage the body’s natural healing abilities.

There is no conclusive evidence that reflexology works for any medical condition. A very small study showed that reflexology may help with the wellbeing of someone with Parkinson’s. However, a larger study is needed to confirm these results.

Is Reflexology safe?

Reflexologists are not currently regulated by law, but they can register with the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council. You will need to check your therapist is insured.

Reflexology may not be suitable if you have diabetes, epilepsy, thyroid or foot problems, or a blood disorder.

Women who are in their first three months of pregnancy should avoid reflexology.

During treatment, some areas of your feet may feel tender. Some people also experience a reaction to their first treatment, such as feeling emotional or needing to pass urine.

Useful contacts

Reiki

Reiki was originally developed in Japan. In Japanese, ‘reiki’ means universal life energy. Practitioners believe that reiki promotes healing by bringing you into harmony and balance.

During treatment, the practitioner channels healing energy into you by placing their hands on or near your body. The whole person is treated, rather than specific symptoms.

How might Reiki help?

Practitioners use reiki to bring comfort and to support healing for a range of conditions. It does not promise a cure and therapists are not trained to make a diagnosis.

A systematic review looked at the evidence for reiki in dealing with pain and concluded it may have a modest effect for pain relief. However, it was recognised that further studies were needed in this area.

Another study was carried out on the effects of reiki on mood and depression. Reiki was shown to improve mood overall, but, again, the evidence is limited and the subject needs much further study.

Is Reiki safe?

Reiki therapists are currently not regulated by law, but they can register with the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council.

Useful contacts

Shiatsu

Shiatsu is a Japanese form of massage therapy. It is designed to support and strengthen the body’s natural ability to heal itself.

A practitioner uses touch, comfortable pressure and manipulative techniques to adjust the body’s physical structure and balance its energy flow.

How might Shiatsu help?

Shiatsu is becoming increasingly popular as a treatment for frozen shoulder, which is a symptom that can be associated with Parkinson’s. However, there is no clinical evidence to prove shiatsu’s effectiveness.

One small study suggested that feelings of deep relaxation, support and increased vitality are common following a shiatsu treatment.

Is Shiatsu safe?

Shiatsu should be avoided if you have weak bones or certain blood conditions. Care is required in early pregnancy. Speak to the shiatsu practitioner before starting treatment if you have any concerns.

Shiatsu therapists are not currently regulated by law. You will need to check your therapist is registered with a professional body and is insured.

Useful contacts

  • Shiatsu Society
    This is a non-profit organisation that represents all styles and the majority of shiatsu practitioners, schools and students in the UK. Contact them to find out more about shiatsu, how they regulate their members and find qualified practitioners.

T’ai chi

T’ai chi is a Chinese martial art that puts special emphasis on balance and movement. T’ai chi involves moving the body slowly and gently. There’s no fast movement or any physical contact.

Practitioners believe that t’ai chi helps a vital energy called 'qi' (pronounced ‘chee’) flow freely through the body, which helps to promote good health.

T’ai chi is meant to improve the functioning of internal organs, including the lungs and digestive system.

How might T’ai chi help?

There have been small studies into the benefits of t’ai chi to improve balance, flexibility and fitness in older people. But further, longer studies are needed to confirm these results.

There have been a few studies on t’ai chi and Parkinson’s, with mixed results. Some suggest that t’ai chi can help improve balance and prevent falls better than conventional exercise, while others found no benefits. Larger, more rigorous studies are needed.

Is T’ai chi safe?

Some precautions may be needed for people who have severe osteoporosis, a hernia or are pregnant.

T’ai chi instructors are not currently regulated by law. You will need to check your teacher is registered with a professional body and is insured.

Useful contacts

  • T’ai Chi Union for Great Britain
    This is an association of practitioners of recognised styles of T’ai Chi Chuan. Contact them to find out more about t’ai chi, find qualified practitioners and read about how they regulate their members.
  • T’ai chi classes may be offered at your local leisure or community centre, so it is worth checking what’s available.
  • Some local Parkinson’s UK groups offer regular exercise sessions, including t’ai chi classes.

Yoga therapy

Yoga is an ancient form of meditation, diet, lifestyle, breathing and exercise. There are different styles of yoga and some are more gentle than others.

When you do yoga, you place your body into certain positions that are designed to increase your strength and flexibility. You can study yoga one-to-one or in a group.

What’s the difference between yoga and Pilates?

Both yoga and Pilates focus on developing strength, balance, flexibility and posture. The difference is that the moves in yoga are designed to increase the strength and flexibility of the whole body and improve breathing.

Pilates also focuses on breathing, but its exercises concentrate much more on precise movements to target specific parts of the body.

How might yoga help?

People may use yoga to develop their general fitness and increase their overall sense of wellbeing. Some people find it also helps to reduce feelings such as stress, anxiety, depression and tension.

There isn’t a lot of evidence that shows any specific benefits of yoga for people with Parkinson’s.

Is yoga safe?

There are many types of yoga and they all have different levels of difficulty. Speak to the yoga instructor before you begin the class to check it is suitable for you.

If you want to try yoga at home, make sure you learn the exercises properly from an instructor first.

Yoga instructors are not currently regulated by law. You will need to check your teacher is registered with a professional body and is insured.

Useful contacts

  • Yoga is one of the complementary therapies more commonly offered on the NHS. Ask your GP, specialist or Parkinson’s nurse for details on availability.
  • You will probably find classes at local leisure and community centres, although these may not be tailored for people with long-term conditions such as Parkinson’s.
  • Some local Parkinson’s UK groups offer regular exercise sessions, including yoga classes.
  • The British Wheel of Yoga
    The British Wheel of Yoga is a registered charity and the Sport England recognised governing body for yoga. It is a members-based organisation and accredits other yoga training organisations.

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Complementary therapies and Parkinson’s (PDF, 2.5MB)

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