There are 5 main types of pain in Parkinson's:
Musculoskeletal (muscle) pain
This is the most common type of pain people with Parkinson's experience.
It's related to Parkinson's rigidity and reduced movement of the joints. It usually feels like an ache in the neck and back, but any part of the body can be affected.
Simple painkillers, regular exercise and physiotherapy can help. A physiotherapist can help you identify the
source of the problem, and advise on helping to manage the pain.
To find out more, see our information on physiotherapy and Parkinson’s.
It’s not unusual for people with Parkinson's to experience muscle pain in one shoulder, which is sometimes diagnosed as ‘frozen shoulder’. For some people with Parkinson’s, shoulder pain is the first symptom they notice.
This type of pain is common in Parkinson’s. It's caused by involuntary muscle contractions and for some people the pain can be severe.
Contractions can happen in body parts such as the toes, fingers, ankles or wrists, and can cause spasms in that area. Sometimes the neck is affected too. The spasms can feel like a severe cramp. They can make the affected body part take on an unusual posture. For example, the toes may curl up. The spasms can also cause twisting movements.
Sometimes, dystonia is related to the timing of Parkinson's medication. If spasms tend to happen early in the morning, it may help to take a controlled (slow) release Parkinson’s drug before bed. These drugs release the dosage over a specified amount of time.
Speak to your specialist or Parkinson’s nurse about the best ways for you to manage any pain caused by involuntary spasms.
You can find out more by reading our information on muscle cramps and dystonia.
Radicular (shooting pain)
Radicular (shooting) pain This is felt as a sharp, often shock-like, shooting pain that travels down the arm or leg, and sometimes the fingers and toes too. Tingling and numbness in the toes and fingers is also common in people with Parkinson’s.
Shooting pain is usually the result of a trapped nerve within the spinal cord around the neck or lower back. A trapped nerve happens when there is too much pressure on the nerve by the tissues that surround it. Dystonia and changes in posture related to Parkinson's can cause pressure on the nerve.
Speak to your GP or physiotherapist if you’re experiencing this type of pain. In many cases, painkillers and regular, gentle exercise can be enough to treat the problem.
Shooting pain that won’t go away is rare, but if you experience this, speak to your specialist. You might need some tests, such as an MRI scan, to rule out compression of the nerve roots at the spinal cord.
This type of pain is not properly understood and can be difficult to treat. It may be caused by Parkinson’s, but can also be caused by other conditions affecting the brain and spinal cord.
It’s often described as a stabbing, burning or bloated feeling. It's usually a constant pain, moderate to severe in its intensity. It can be made worse by touch, movement, emotions and changes in temperature.
Central pain can sometimes be managed by adjusting Parkinson's medication, or by a prescription painkiller, such as Gabapentin.
To discuss your treatment options, speak to your GP, specialist or Parkinson’s nurse. They may also arrange for tests to determine if your central pain is caused by Parkinson’s or another condition.
Dyskinetic pain can be described as a deep, aching sensation. It can happen because of involuntary movements (dyskinesia) that some people with Parkinson’s experience. It can also happen before, during or after movement.
Some people with Parkinson’s report that when this pain begins, it's a warning sign that the involuntary movements are about to start. In other cases, pain that starts during severe involuntary movements may be caused by the twisting action of the movements.
Speak to your GP, specialist or Parkinson’s nurse if you’re experiencing dyskinetic pain – your Parkinson’s medication may need to be adjusted.
You can find out more by reading our information on wearing off and dyskinesia.
There are other less common types of pain that are associated with Parkinson's. This includes:
Muscle cramps can have a variety of causes in Parkinson’s. They can be painful and can happen at any time, night or day. At night they might cause pain in your legs and calf muscles, as well as restlessness, which can lead to disrupted sleep.
Episodes of muscle cramp usually last less than 10 minutes, although your muscles can feel tender for up to a few hours.Trying to move around might help. You can also try to soothe the cramps by stretching and massaging the muscles.
Speak to your GP, specialist or Parkinson’s nurse for advice on easing muscle cramps. They may make a referral to a specialist such as a physiotherapist.
To find out more, see our information on muscle cramps and dystonia.
Restless legs syndrome
This is felt as an irresistible urge to move your legs when resting. It usually occurs in the evening, when going to sleep or during the night. The symptoms of restless leg syndrome include pins and needles, a burning sensation and pain.
Night-time pain related to restless legs can be treated with Parkinson’s drugs, such as dopamine agonists. Your healthcare professional might also recommend other medicines. Stretches and exercise, as well as relaxation can also help.
You can find out more on our page on restless legs syndrome and Parkinson’s.
Pain in the mouth and jaw
Pain in the mouth and jaw Some people with Parkinson’s experience a burning sensation or pain in their mouth or jaw area. This is sometimes called ‘burning mouth syndrome’. This is a rare problem and can happen at any stage of the condition.
Burning mouth syndrome can cause a dry mouth sensation and feeling of thirst. A dry mouth can lead to higher rates of tooth decay and gum disease. Dryness of the mouth can also be caused by some Parkinson’s medications (particularly anticholinergics).
Speak to your GP, specialist or Parkinson’s nurse if you have any concerns, but do not stop taking the drugs before getting professional advice. Burning mouth syndrome can also cause dentures to become loose and difficult to control, which can cause pain.
To find out more, see our information on mouth and dental issues in Parkinson’s.
Akinetic crisis and pain
This type of pain may occur in the advanced stages of Parkinson’s. It’s brought on by akinetic crisis, which is a rare and sometimes dangerous complication of Parkinson's.
Akinetic crisis involves a worsening of Parkinson’s symptoms, which can include severe rigidity, a complete loss of movement, fever and difficulty swallowing. People with Parkinson’s who have akinetic crisis pain say that they feel pain in their muscles and joints, and experience headaches. Some people also experience whole-body pain.
This type of pain can be brought on if you abruptly stop taking Parkinson’s medication, or if you develop an infection, both of which can cause Parkinson's symptoms to suddenly get worse. Akinetic crisis requires urgent medical help. If it looks like someone is experiencing akinetic crisis, call 999.
Headaches can happen at any stage in your condition and are sometimes caused by Parkinson’s drugs. They may also be related to musculoskeletal (muscle) pain in the neck and shoulders.
Normally, over-the-counter painkillers are enough to help with this type of pain. If you do experience drug-resistant headaches, tell your GP, specialist or Parkinson’s nurse.
Your healthcare professional can advise you on your medication regime. They may advise that you try not to take a large number of tablets at one time, particularly if you’re also taking medication for high blood pressure or heart problems.
If you're experiencing pain, the best thing to do is speak to your GP, specialist, Parkinson's nurse or physiotherapist. These healthcare professionals can advise you on appropriate treatments.
You may find it helpful to fill in the non-motor questionnaire for Parkinson's. This will help your healthcare professional to assess your non-motor symptoms, including pain. You can also call the Parkinson’s UK helpline on 0800 800 0303 to order a copy.
It may also be helpful to write down some details about the pain you experience. For example, you could explain:
- where the pain is in your body
- how the pain feels
- how long the pain lasts
- what time of the day the pain occurs and how often
- whether the pain is worse at certain times of day
- any other details about the pain you think are important
This information can help you explain your pain symptoms to your specialist or Parkinson’s nurse, who may use the King’s Parkinson’s Disease Pain Scale to find out more.
It might help if you to keep a diary of how your pain feels and when it occurs. This will help you explain your symptoms to your health professional.
To find out more, see our information on keeping a diary of Parkinson's symptoms.
Sometimes, common ways of reducing pain, such as doing regular gentle exercise, massage or taking painkillers, can help.
But treating pain in people with Parkinson's can be difficult. The best thing to do is to find the cause of the pain, so speak to your GP, specialist or Parkinson's nurse.
Usually, your GP will be able to help you manage the more common types of pain, such as shoulder pains and headaches.
Certain other types of pain, such as pain caused by involuntary movements or burning mouth, may need the help of your specialist.
It may help if you, or your carer, keep a diary about how pain affects you and when. This will help you explain your symptoms to your healthcare professional.
There are a number of painkillers available without prescription that can ease your pain, including paracetamol and ibuprofen.
You can also buy paracetamol in combination with codeine (co-codamol), although higher doses require a prescription.
For many people, paracetamol has few side effects, and you can take two tablets of paracetamol up to four times a day.
Ibuprofen may work better for inflammatory pain and is available as tablets, gels, sprays or liquids. But ibuprofen is not recommended for people with some other conditions, such as stomach ulcers or a history of kidney or liver disease. Also, long term use of ibruprofen can increase the risk of stomach, kidney and heart problems.
It’s important to discuss your choice of painkiller with your GP, specialist or Parkinson’s nurse. If your pain is severe or prolonged, don’t be tempted to go above the recommended doses, as this can cause other problems. Get advice from your healthcare professional on managing more severe or chronic pain.
There's still a lot we don't yet know about pain in Parkinson's, but thanks to recent research, we do know that Parkinson's can cause pain areas in the brain to become overactive. Researchers are working hard to find ways to try and reduce these overactive pain areas, although there is no proven treatment at the moment.
To find out more about Parkinson’s research and how you can get involved visit our research page or call 020 7931 8080.
If you experience pain, you may be put off by the thought of exercising, but exercise is an effective and safe way to manage pain. A lack of physical activity can actually make the problem worse, and can cause stiff joints, weight gain, muscle weakness and breathlessness.
When you first start exercising, you may find that it’s uncomfortable in the short term. But as your body gets used to the new movement, in the long term it will have a positive impact on chronic pain.
There are specific exercises that work for different types of pain. For acute pain, it’s best to start with gentle exercises. These exercises will usually be recommended by a healthcare professional such as a physiotherapist.
For chronic or persistent pain, it’s a good idea to build on what you can already do, with functional exercise (see below). This involves training your muscles to perform common movements that you might do at home or at work.
Functional exercise for chronic/persistent pain
There are some simple exercises that you can try around the house to help:
- If you experience pain in your legs, keep them strong by practising standing up and sitting down in a chair.
- If your shoulders are aching, start by loosening them with some shoulder rolling actions, then by lifting an object that is slightly weighty (such as a tin of beans) from a shelf, and then replacing it. This increases the range of movement in your back, shoulders and arms, and then your strength.
Improve your general fitness
Increasing your level of fitness will help you manage your weight and ensure your joints aren’t under any
added pressure. You could try walking, swimming, dancing, cycling or aerobics – it’s up to you.
Many of Parkinson’s UK’s local groups have physiotherapist-led exercise classes you can join. Visit our Local Support page or call our helpline on 0808 800 0303 to find one near you.
Parkinson's and Pain
Ray and Fiona, his Parkinson's physiotherapist, discuss what it’s like to live with pain as a result of Parkinson's, and show some exercises to help manage it.
Last updated June 2020. We review all our information within 3 years. If you'd like to find out more about how we put our information together, including references and the sources of evidence we use, please contact us at [email protected]