Parkinson’s Disease is a condition that has been known about since ancient times. It’s referred to in the ancient Indian medical system Ayurveda in the name Kampavata. It’s also mentioned in the oldest Chinese medical texts as well as those of the ancient Greeks, Romans as well as the Old and New Testaments. So it’s clear the disease has been with us for many years.

However it was not until 1817 that a detailed medical essay was published on the subject by a London Doctor James Parkinson. His intention was to encourage study of the condition to help those with what he termed the “Shaking Palsy”. Sixty years after the publication a French neurologist named Jean Martin Charcot truly recognised the importance of Parkinson’s work and named the disease after him.

What Is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological condition. Simply put, it causes problems in the brain and gets worse over time. People with Parkinson’s do not have enough Dopamine because some of the nerve cells that make it have died. It’s not clearly understood why this occurs, but researchers think it’s a combination of genetic and environmental factors that cause the Dopamine producing cells to die.

Dopamine is a chemical messenger that transmits signals to the part of the brain that controls coordinated movement. When these cells die other movement control centres become unregulated. It’s this disturbance that causes the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease.


Initially, the symptoms will be mild then progress over time. Common Symptoms are:

Tremor in a resting limb
Slowness of movement
Poor balance and coordination
Small handwriting
Shuffling walk
Stiff facial muscles
Muffled Speech

There can also be various other physical, cognitive and psychiatric symptoms ranging from constipation to anxiety.


Medications that deal with the symptoms of each individual - there is no one size fits all. Each patient is different - there symptoms can vary drastically. Drugs may target Motor symptoms as well as non Motor symptoms. Medications that deal with Motor symptoms target tremor, stiffness and slowness while the non Motor drugs deal with depression, sleep disturbance and anxiety.

There is the possibility of surgery for those whose symptoms are not responding to medication - Deep Brain Stimulation can relieve symptoms. There is also the option for Stem Cell treatment.

Although at the moment there is no cure for Parkinson’s, research is moving forward and medications, treatments both physical and psychological are making progress.

The Benefits Of Pilates

Exercise is accepted to be essential for those suffering the effects of Parkinson’s Disease. Although at present all treatments and therapies can only slow the progression of the symptoms, it’s clear the mind and body connection of Pilates can offer a positive, proactive environment for those affected.

A Pilates programme offers Spinal mobility, Extension, Flexion, Lateral Flexion and Rotation, at the same time Stabilisation of the upper and lower body to help with balance and coordination. Hip mobility, Rotation, Adduction and Abduction relative to gait.

In addition particularly in a one to one setting the Pilates teacher can offer a calm, safe place for the client to experiment with ranges of motion using the professional Pilates equipment to assist and create support as well as challenge.

The improved strength, mobility, flexibility, coordination and balance will create a confidence in the client that may have been diminishing as the symptoms become more noticeable.

Benefits from a Pilates programme will only become apparent if the client understands the necessity to practice daily, putting the information and knowledge they are acquiring about their personal physicality, limitations and development to use in their daily activities.
A once or twice a week visit to the Pilates studio will not be enough to ensure effective results. The Pilates teacher needs to be of the highest professional standard to help this client. A teacher who can recognise the changes that are occurring as well as how each visit can present a different challenge both to them and their client, whether that’s physical or emotional.

Without a doubt Pilates is an intelligent choice for those dealing with Parkinson’s disease, in combination with their physician, neurologist, physiotherapist or osteopath, the Pilates teacher is an integral part of the team.

Nuala Coombs
Pilates For You
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