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Does Head Trauma Contribute to the Onset of Parkinson's Disease?

By Erin L. Elster, D.C.

Can injuries to the head, neck, or spine cause the onset of Parkinson's Disease (PD)? This is a debate that has waged in the field of medicine for years. The suspicion has lingered and doesn’t seem to be fading at all with time. In fact, more researchers are documenting cases of PD diagnosed subsequent to spinal trauma; too many to be caused by chance.

Parkinson's disease has a variety of symptoms that range in severity. The early symptoms of PD can be as subtle as a mild tremor in a finger of one hand. Other symptoms include slowed motion, rigid muscles, loss of balance, impaired speech, difficulty swallowing, and a fixed expression.  Impairments worsen over time as the disease progresses.

The cause of Parkinson's disease has been questioned in the medical community for decades. Countless studies, clinical deliberations, and robust debates have made little progress in discovering the source of the illness. Numerous theories have been proposed including that environmental toxins are involved and that there is a genetic link. What is certain is that PD develops when cells in an area of the brainstem called the substantia nigra are damaged or destroyed.

Some scientists are beginning to conclude that trauma to the head, neck, and spine contributes to the damage of the substantia nigra cells. These professionals suggest that the precise impact to the central nervous system, through whiplash, concussion, or similar trauma, will either cause PD to develop or once subtle symptoms to worsen. Researchers believe that trauma to the central nervous system may alter the blood-brain-barrier, which many consider to be a critical step in the destruction of brain cells.

More researchers are documenting cases of PD diagnosis after head trauma. Often, the instance of trauma, such as concussion or whiplash, occurred more than a decade prior to PD onset. In addition, medical professionals are noting that many patients already diagnosed with PD have an increase in symptoms following a new traumatic event.  There are some practitioners who believe that the problem is isolated in the upper neck; that the cervical vertebrae become dislodged or misaligned by trauma, which can interfere with the central nervous system.

More research is needed to determine the causal factors for Parkinson's disease.  Until then, there are a variety of treatments and support systems available for patients that are only a search engine away. If you have questions or concerns about this illness, please discuss them with your health care professional.

Dr. Erin Elster is an Upper Cervical Chiropractor.  For more information on Upper Cervical Chiropractic care, please contact Dr. Elster in Kahului, Maui, Hawaii at 808-866-6551 or www.erinelster.com.