Complementary Therapies in PD

Conventional therapies focus on treating the underlying causes of symptoms associated with disease.  By contrast, complementary therapies aim to manage symptoms, ease pain, reduce stress and improve quality of life. 

Complementary therapies include physical, occupational, and speech therapies.  In addition to these conventional complementary therapies, more unconventional complementary therapies useful to those with Parkinson's disease (PD) include mind and body practices (yoga, meditation, stress management), manipulative therapies (massage, chiropractic, acupuncture), alternative medical systems (cannabis, homeopathy, Ayurveda, Chinese medicine), and energy therapies (Reiki, Qi Gong). 

Here are some resources to help understand which complementary therapies may be beneficial for those with PD and those that are not.

Downloadable Documents | Online Articles | Podcasts & Webinars | Expert-level Resources

Downloadable Documents (PDF)

Complementary Therapies and Multiple System Atrophy

Published by the MSA Trust, March 2016

This 6-page fact sheet (PDF) teaches the difference between complementary and alternative therapies and how to evaluate whether they are safe and effective for the expense, as most are not covered by medical insurance.  It explains 15 complementary therapies and their possible benefit.

Complementary Therapies and Parkinson’s

Published by Parkinson’s UK, March 2015

This 76-page booklet (PDF) is for people interested in using complementary therapies alongside their Parkinson’s treatment, to help them manage their Parkinson’s symptoms.  It explains and evaluates 24 complementary therapies for the type of assistance that may be gained and associated risks for each.

Online Articles

Medical Marijuana

Published by the Parkinson's Foundation

This webpage starts by saying cannabis has not been demonstrated to directly benefit people with Parkinson’s, and goes on to explain the science and pharmacology behind marijuana, and the risks and benefits for people with Parkinson’s.  Links to four PD-related medical marijuana studies are provided.

Medical Marijuana and Parkinson’s Disease

By Rachel Dolhun, MD.  Published by the Michael J. Fox Foundation, October 2, 2019

This is a good article for people looking for research results on the effectiveness of marijuana in treating various symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease (PD).  There isn’t much and this article explains why not and how difficult it can be to obtain medical grade marijuana.

Mucuna Pruriens - A Natural Remedy for Parkinson's Disease?

Published by the American Parkinson Disease Association

This extensive web page explains what mucuna pruriens is, why it is thought to be a treatment for Parkinson's symptoms, the history of its testing as a Parkinson's treatment, and the pros and cons of trying it yourself.

Over the Counter & Complementary Therapies

Published by the Parkinsons Foundation

This webpage links to descriptions of many kinds of herbs, vitamins and supplements which support or complement Western or traditional medicine including antioxidant vitamins C and E, calcium and vitamin D, Coenzyme Q10, ginger, folate, green tea, medical marijuana, vitamin B12 and more.

A Resource Guide of 19 Complementary Therapies For People With Parkinson's

Published by the Davis Phinney Foundation, August 7, 2018

The options to help people with Parkinson's live well are not limited to conventional medicine and DBS. This list of 19 complementary therapies people associated with the Davis Phinney Foundation Blog experimented with, under the care of their medical team, in an attempt to reduce symptoms even more.

The Value of a Team of Complementary Therapists When You Want to Live Well With Parkinson's

By Fred Scott.  Published by the Davis Phinney Foundation, August 14, 2018

A first hand account of one man's experience adding a physical therapist, speech therapist and occupational therapist to his already diligent exercise routine. Fred was evaluated before and after a six-week trial adding 'big maximal daily exercises', speaking with more 'intent,' like talking to the back of a large audience, and exercises designed to reawaken fine motor skills and muscles needed to do simple things. He improved so much his daughter said she felt like she got her Dad back.

Podcasts & Webinars

Complementary Therapies and Alternative Practices for Parkinson's Disease

By the Davis Phinney Foundation

In this 8-minute video Dr. Benzi Kluger takes an evidence-based approach to discuss the risks and potential benefits of a wide range of non-medication, complementary therapies, from yoga, tai chi and dance to nutritional supplements, cannibidoil and medical marijuana.

Complementary Therapies for Parkinson's Disease

By the American Parkinson Disease Association, August 4, 2021

During the pandemic, movement disorders specialist Britt Stone, MD, trained in integrative medicine, the practice of integrating traditional remedies and modern medicine in treatment of the whole person (mind, body, and soul).  In this episode of Dr. Gilbert Hosts, she speaks for about 20-minutes about complementary therapies to relieve symptoms of stress, anxiety, pain, stiffness, insomnia, nausea, bloating, and memory, before answering questions for another 20-minutes.

Conversations about Complementary Therapies and Parkinson's Disease

By the Parkinson's Foundation, March 4, 2022

In this one hour, 15-minute webinar movement disorders specialist Natalia Diaz, MD, talked about how complementary therapies manage symptoms, ease pain, reduce stress and improve quality of life.  Nearly half of all people with PD utilize some form of complementary therapy. These therapies are often identified on the internet and frequently not reported to physicians.  Treating physicians are sometimes unaware of such treatments, including their rationale, mechanisms, potential efficacy, and possible adverse effects.  Dr. Diaz explored in detail the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of complementary therapies and how to talk with your doctor about integrating them into your treatment plan.

Marijuana: What Wo We Really Know?

By the Parkinson’s Foundation, April 17, 2018

In this 1-hour webinar Dr. Benzi M. Kluger reviews what cannabis is, how it works in the brain and why there is so much excitement about its potential in PD, before reviewing animal and basic science studies suggesting some promise in treating motor symptoms and slowing PD progression.  Finally Dr. Kluger reviews evidence to date in human studies, suggestions for future research and practical advice for persons interested in trying cannabis-based products.

Medical Marijuana

By the Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation, 2017

In this 39-minute lecture, filmed at the 2017 HOPE Conference, Naturopathic Doctor, Jade Stafano, speaks about marijuana in the context of Parkinson’s disease.  She does an excellent job of explaining the constituents of marijuana effective in treating various symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, the possible adverse reactions, the importance of using medical grade marijuana and various consumption methods.

Medical Marijuana and Other Alternative Therapies

By the Michael J. Fox Foundation, October 17, 2019

In this 1-hour webinar panelists discuss what research is finding about marijuana use for Parkinson’s disease and the role of other therapies such as acupuncture and meditation.  Questions from listeners are answered.

What’s the Alternative? What to Know about Complementary Medicine for Parkinson’s

By the Michael J. Fox Foundation, May 21, 2015

This 1-hour webinar is an interview of a person with PD, a neurologist, and an assistant research scientist. They share what is currently known about mind and body practices (yoga, meditation, stress management), manipulative therapies (massage, chiropractic, acupuncture), alternative medical systems (homeopathy, Ayurveda, Chinese medicine), and energy therapies (Reiki, Qi Gong) and what evidence there is that they are efficacious for people with Parkinson’s. [Registration required, but is free.]

Expert-Level Resources

Complementary & Alternative Management of Parkinson’s Disease: An Evidence-Based Review of Eastern Influenced Practices

By Danny Bega and Cindy Zadikoff.  Journal of Movement Disorders, October 30, 2014

This is a literature review on Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) treatments for PD, focusing on mind-body interventions and natural products.  

Professional ethics in complementary and alternative medicines in management of Parkinson’s disease

By Hee Jin Kim, et. al.  Journal of Parkinson’s Disease, October 19, 2016

A good, succinct summary of the evidence (or lack thereof) for various Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) treatments for PD including Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, etc., with a good discussion of the ethical and safety considerations physicians should keep in mind when discussing CAM with patients and their families.

Last updated August 2020 by Stanford Parkinsons Community Outreach.