Dr. Erin Elster    
New Study Shows Positive Results for Parkinson's Disease

WOMEN'S MAGAZINE , October 1999
by Erin L. Elster, D.C

Upper Cervical Chiropractic, a new health care technique incorporating modern computerized technology, has proven to be effective in the treatment of Parkinson's disease as illustrated by a recent research study in Boulder, Colorado. Ten patients ranging in age, severity, and duration of symptoms participated in the three-month study, which began in March 1999.

After upper cervical chiropractic care, eight patients showed positive change and two, both over age 65, showed no change. Two patients over 65 and all six patients under 65 improved, five substantially. Diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1992, Larry, age 60, described his positive changes. "… I noticed many improvements [after upper cervical treatment]: a higher energy level, I am sleeping better, my left leg doesn't drag, walking is easier, and I can walk longer and further. My disposition is much improved plus my overall physical health is much better. My wife, daughter, son, friends, neighbors, and even members of our square dance group have all noticed a marked improvement in my physical and mental health," he said.

Parkinson's Facts

Approximately 1.5 million Americans suffer from Parkinson's disease (PD). While PD is generally considered a disease that targets older adults, fifteen percent of patients are diagnosed before age 50 (National Parkinson's Foundation, 1999). Prominent people diagnosed with Parkinson's include Billy Graham, Janet Reno, Muhammad Ali, and Michael J. Fox.

What Is Parkinson's Disease?

Parkinson's Disease is a progressive disorder of the central nervous system in which a group of brain cells, the substantia nigra, degenerates and stops producing a vital chemical, dopamine. The decrease in dopamine creates PD symptoms such as tremor, stiff and rigid limbs (rigidity), difficulty with walking and balance, generalized slowness of movement (bradykinesia), decreased facial expression, and small cramped handwriting.

Medical Treatment

Administration of drugs that mimic dopamine has been the standard treatment for Parkinson's disease. Although the medications may temporarily control symptoms, they do not stop the progressive degeneration of brain cells. As a result, Parkinson's symptoms worsen over time. Several brain surgical techniques also exist, but due to the risks involved, most physicians agree that surgery is only an option for patients who are no longer responding to medications (National Parkinson's Foundation, 1999).

Study Description

Ten individuals suffering from Parkinson's disease for the past two to twenty years participated in the study. Their symptoms varied from mild to severe and their ages ranged from 47 to 76 years old. At their first office visit in March 1999, patients received a health history, a spinal exam, upper cervical spine x-rays, and computerized paraspinal infrared thermal scans. Their symptoms were also evaluated using the Unified Parkinson's Disease Rating Scale. After the analysis of patients' cervical x-rays and the determination of individualized adjustments for correction, participants began regular treatment. Treatment visits occurred one to three times per week for three months and included computerized scans and upper cervical chiropractic adjustments as needed. Patients were reevaluated in April and June 1999.


After upper cervical chiropractic care, all six patients under age 65 and two over 65 improved. Each of the eight patients noticed changes within the first thirty days of treatment, reported an increase in energy level and/or sleep, and showed a decrease in spinal pain and/or rigidity. Five patients had better balance, more upright posture, more fluid walking, improved hand agility, clearer speech, improved facial expression, better strength to arise from a chair, and improved ability to turn in bed. Three out of eight also reported more legible handwriting, decreased tremor, improved leg agility, and a decrease in falling and freezing. Rick, age 47, who first noticed a tremor in his hand ten years ago, noted his "…attitude and mood also improved due to the positive changes and improvements resulting from treatment."

Improvement Despite Duration of Symptoms

Eight out of ten patients had improvement and/or reversal of many Parkinson's symptoms illustrating the capacity for a Parkinson's patient to heal despite the lengthy presence of the condition. Diagnosed twenty years ago, Arlyce, age 53, became accustomed to years of severe, painful bouts of dystonia (abnormal muscle tone) which left her bedridden. "My neck went into spasm and pulled my head down on my left shoulder and it was very painful. I took muscle relaxants and tranquilizers and my husband massaged my neck and shoulders but it took hours before the tension loosened… [The treatment] helped me dramatically. I still get dystonia but not nearly as often or severe," she said.

How Upper Cervical Chiropractic Works

Upper Cervical Chiropractic works by correcting irritation to the central nervous system, the fundamental cause of Parkinson's disease. Misalignments in the vertebrae of the upper cervical spine cause irritation to the nerve pathways traveling between the brain and spinal cord resulting in malfunction of the nervous system. Causes of spinal misalignments include traumas to the head, neck, or spine, such as concussion, auto accidents, whiplash, sports injuries, bike and ski falls, and poor posture. By correcting misaligned vertebrae in the upper neck, irritation in the central nervous system is removed, thereby allowing a patient's nervous system and body to resume normal function.

History of Trauma

Medical histories of the study participants revealed their recollection of traumas to the head, neck, or spine, such as whiplash or concussion, which occurred prior to the onset of Parkinson's disease. Virgil, age 63, first noticed Parkinson's symptoms, including spinal rigidity and head twitching, after a hard football tackle in 1980. Ten years later, his right hand began to tremor, and soon after, he was diagnosed with PD. After upper cervical treatment, "…my agility and posture improved. I have better neck movement and am better able to rise up from a supine position, and I can walk and stand for longer periods of time with less fatigue," he said.

History of trauma, a common finding in the study participants, is consistent with histories of other patients who have responded to upper cervical chiropractic care. In cases where a trauma has caused a misalignment of the upper cervical spine resulting in a wide variety of conditions months to years later, correction of the upper cervical spine has improved and/or reversed those symptoms.

Dr. Erin Elster is an Upper Cervical Chiropractor.  She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and Palmer College of Chiropractic, Iowa. Dr. Elster provided treatment to the participants at no charge for the three-month study period. Questions about Upper Cervical Chiropractic care or this research study should be directed to Dr. Elster in Kahului, Maui, Hawaii or visit her web site, www.erinelster.com.