Parkinson’s disease is a chronic debilitating disease which affects dopamine producing nerve cells in the brain. There are multiple symptoms related to Parkinson’s disease including muscle rigidity, tremors, and changes in speech and gait. Like MS and Alzheimer’s disease, neither Western nor Eastern medicine have yet to find a definitive cure for Parkinson’s disease.

During Clayton’s time at the First Teaching Hospital of Tianjin in China, he treated several Parkinson’s patients under the tutelage of Dr. Shi Xue Min, considered the ‘Father of Acupuncture’ and creator of the Xing Nao Kai Qiao technique. The outcomes the Xing Nao Kai Qiao treatment programs had on patient’s symptoms were significant. Clayton saw many patients walk into the hospital with a shuffling gait, a characteristic of Parkinson’s, and leave after an acupuncture session with significantly greater mobility. There are many acupuncture techniques to treat the rigidity symptoms seen in Parkinson’s, many of which are located around the head and locally at the affected limb. More importantly, the Xing Nao Kai Qiao acupuncture method was able to immediately activate the sciatic nerve after treating the point UB 40 behind the knee.

It’s important to note that acupuncture is a powerful and complete medical system unlike dry needling technique which physical therapists are now adopting into their repertoire. The Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) approach to evaluating patients and selecting acupuncture points allows the acupuncturist to treat diseases like Parkinson’s which are not orthopedic traumatic injuries but internal neurological central nervous symptoms diseases.

The following scientific biochemical data clearly elaborates why acupuncture is a valid and uniquely effective medical system that can benefit cerebral disorders like Parkinson’s. Zhang et al performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of 2,314 patients from 1999 to 2013 that were treated with TCM acupuncture. The review found that acupuncture combined with dopamine therapy was more effective than acupuncture alone. [3] This, of course, raises the question whether the patients treated with only dopamine therapy were healthier than with the group that had EA with dopamine therapy. The following study two years later addresses this question.

In 2015, Wang et al published in the journal of Evidence Based Complementary Medicine a study investigating the effectiveness and mechanisms of electroacupuncture (EA) as an add-on treatment in Parkinson's disease (PD) patients. Fifty PD patients were randomly assigned to drug plus EA (D + EA) group and drug alone (D) group. The results showed that EA as an add-on treatment to dopamine therapy remarkably reduced scores of Unified Parkinson's Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS) III and its symptoms of tremor, rigidity, and bradykinesia. The group that was treated with EA and drug therapy also resulted in reduced depression and sleep disturbances. The effects of the EA add-on treatment on motor symptoms and sleep disturbances were also found to be superior to drug alone treatments, therefore significantly improving the life quality of PD patients. The EA add-on treatment group also produced decreased nitric oxide levels in serum samples. The study concluded that EA add-on treatment is effective on most motor symptoms and some non-motor symptoms and is particularly efficacious in PD patients at an early stage. [1]

As explained in the MS research section, there is research investigating and confirming acupuncture’s biochemical effect on the central nervous system and especially on cerebral disorders. In 2015, the following group published a ground breaking review about the research of the biomolecular mechanism of acupuncture’s effect on Parkinson’s disease. Zeng et al, reviewed the laboratory acupuncture findings showing that acupuncture stimulation in Parkinson's mice models had generated valuable mechanistic insight of Parkinson's disease. The results showed that acupuncture treatment is in fact a neuroprotective therapy that increases the release of various neuroprotective agents such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor, glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor, and cyclophilin A. In addition, the laboratory studies found that acupuncture therapy had slowed the cell death process and attenuates oxidative stress to dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra of the brain. Further, acupuncture therapy modulates neuronal activity of the basal ganglia output structures. [2] These results suggest that early application of acupuncture therapy to Parkinson's patients may be helpful for the best efficacy of acupuncture treatment. Also it can be concluded that acupuncture, if performed correctly and integrated with scientific understanding, may also be able to treat the causes of Parkinson’s disease not just the symptoms.

In line with Clayton’s experience treating Parkinson’s patients in Tianjin, he recommends recommend a minimum of 20 acupuncture sessions, with a minimum of three each week to see a therapeutic effect at the biomolecular level. It is hoped that the promising results of these existing studies on acupuncture’s ability to treat Parkinson’s will inspire further acupuncture research at the biochemical level in the clinical hospital setting and assist in finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease.

  1. Wang F1, Sun L1, Zhang XZ2, Jia J3, Liu Z1, Huang XY1, Yu SY4, Zuo LJ1, Cao CJ1, Wang XM5, Zhang W6.Effect and Potential Mechanism of Electroacupuncture Add-On Treatment in Patients with Parkinson's Disease. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:692795.

  2. Zeng BY1, Salvage S, Jenner P. Current development of acupuncture research in Parkinson's disease. Int Rev Neurobiol. 2013;111:141-58.

  3. Zhang G1, Xiong N1, Zhang Z2, Liu L1, Huang J1, Yang J1, Wu J3, Lin Z4, Wang T1.Effectiveness of traditional Chinese medicine as an adjunct therapy for Parkinson's disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2015 Mar 10;10(3):e0118498.