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chronic low back pain and parkinson’s disease: is there a link?



Far too many people believe that it’s JUST PLAIN DUMB LUCK OR BLIND CHANCE that leads to whatever health issue they happen to be dealing with.  This is generally true whether it’s CANCER, DIABETES, CHRONIC LOW BACK PAIN, or just about anything else you care to add to this list….. including PARKINSON’S.  While “chance” undoubtedly plays a role; EPIGENETIC FACTORS are increasingly being seen as the driving force behind the collective degeneration of the health of Western society, surprisingly to some, to a much greater extent than genetics itself.  Follow along as I show you yet another example of the UNIVERSAL CAUSE OF SICKNESS AND DISEASE — the fact that the majority of disease processes are actually part of a giant continuum, manifesting itself differently in different people. I’m also going to show you how training as a boxer is changing the lives of many suffering with Parkinson’s.

When you see the term “Parkonsonism,” it is not the same as Parkinson’s Disease, but is instead referring to a distinct set of symptoms that are ubiquitous to over 25 neurodegenerative diseases.  These symptoms include various sorts of tremors, diminished ability to move, rigid, tense, or spastic muscles, and various forms of balance / stability problems and DISTORTED PROPRIOCEPTIVE ABILITIES or kinesthetic sense (people cannot tell where their body is at in space) which, while not VERTIGO, can in some ways act similarly.  I mention all this because a couple of months ago the journal Frontiers in Neurology published a study by a group of rehab specialists and neurologists called What If Low Back Pain Is the Most Prevalent Parkinsonism in the World?

While the title alone should make one stop and think for a moment, it’s what’s inside the study that BEING A CHIROPRACTOR, literally stopped me in my tracks. 

Low back pain (LBP) has a point prevalence of nearly 10% and ranks highest in global disease burden for years lived with disability; Parkinson’s disease ranks in the top 100 most disabling health conditions for years lost and years lived with disability. Recent evidence suggests that people with chronic, recurrent LBP exhibit many postural impairments reminiscent of a neurological postural disorder such as Parkinson’s.

Essentially, these doctors are making the point that not only is Chronic Low Back Pain the number one disability-causing health problem on the planet, it has many characteristics that make it ‘Parkinson’s-like’.  On top of this, even though there is pain with Parkinson’s, it is rarely talked about nor is it the focus of treatment.  The authors went on to discuss the fact that even though care given by rehab specialists to patients with Parkinson’s is geared toward retraining and improving gait, posture, and balance, when it comes to LBP the focus is more about managing said pain and / or addressing flexibility and strength issues.  Which brings us to the gist of their study.

Although they would never say they are the same thing (in similar fashion to the way that a growing part of the medical community is referring to Alzheimer’s as Type III Diabetes — HERE), the authors clearly stated that with both conditions, “the motor impairments seem more alike than different.”  Their point?  They believe that patients with chronic LBP should be treated with some of the Parkinson’s rehab and vice versa. 

Overall, the similarities of LBP and PD in postural impairment and associated neurophysiology suggest it may not be so implausible to consider LBP as an axial parkinsonism, rendering it the most prevalent parkinsonism in the world.” 

Suggestion; if you or a loved one has Parkinson’s or chronic LBP, forward them this post so that they can read the study themselves.

Although there are many who debate it (for instance Time ran a 2016 story titled The Role of Boxing in the Death of Muhammad Ali Remains Unclear), studies on HEAD INJURIES — particularly repeated head trauma — as a risk factor for Parkinson’s abound.  Ali last fought in 1981 (he lost), and by 1991, the journal Movement Disorders had published a study whose title tells you all you really need to know; Head Trauma as a Risk Factor for Parkinson’s Disease.  The March 2015 issue of Neurobiology of Aging (Head Trauma in Sport and Neurodegenerative Disease: An Issue Whose Time has Come?) had this to say on the subject….

“A number of small studies and anecdotal reports have been suggested that sports involving repeated head trauma may have long-term risks of neurodegenerative disease. There are now plausible mechanisms for these effects, and a recognition that these problems do not just occur in former boxers, but in a variety of sports involving repeated concussions, and possibly also in sports in which low-level head trauma is common. These neurodegenerative effects potentially include increased risks of impaired cognitive function and dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.”

With what we are learning about the seriousness of head injuries from FOOTBALL, HOCKEY or even SOCCER (can anyone say CTE?), we can’t possibly be surprised that boxing or other full contact sports such as MMA affect the brain similarly.  But….  What if I told you that boxing — or at least training like a boxer — has been shown to be an effective treatment for Parkinson’s?  Back in 2011, the journal Physical Therapy (Boxing Training for Patients with Parkinson Disease: A Case Series) said this of 2-3 sessions per week of boxing training for those dealing with Parkinson’s. 

“The 90-minute sessions included boxing drills and traditional stretching, strengthening, and endurance exercises.  Despite the progressive nature of PD, the patients in this case series showed short-term and long-term improvements in balance, gait, activities of daily living, and quality of life after the boxing training program. A longer duration of training was necessary for patients with moderate to severe PD to show maximal training outcomes. The boxing training program was feasible and safe for these patients with PD.”

In 2013, Neurorehabilitation (Community-Based Group Exercise for Persons with Parkinson Disease: A Randomized Controlled Trial) showed something similar.  Compared to individuals who were doing TRADITIONAL STRENGTH AND CARDIO TRAINING, along with balance training (A GREAT TOOL TO ADD TO ANY PROTOCOL),

Only the boxing group demonstrated significant improvements in gait velocity and endurance over time with a medium between-group effect size for the gait endurance. Both groups demonstrated significant improvements with the balance, mobility, and quality of life with large within-group effect sizes. While groups significantly differed in balance confidence after training, both groups demonstrated improvements in most outcome measures. Supporting options for long-term community-based group exercise for persons with PD will be an important future consideration for rehabilitation professionals.

And while there is evidence from peer-review that programs like “ROCK STEADY” are working, there are literally mountains of anecdotal evidence from the tens of thousands of people who are already doing this very thing — training as boxers for the express purpose of kicking Parkinson’s ass.  And honestly, what have you got to lose? 

These are training sessions, not fights.  In other words, you don’t have to worry about getting hit.  And not only can you do these workouts corporately, they could easily be modified and done on some level with a partner at home, with a minimal investment in equipment or space.  If you know or love someone with Parkinson’s (or it runs in your family like it does mine — HERE) be sure to share today’s post with them.  And since Parkinson’s is an autoimmune disease, be sure to at least browse my ‘UNIVERSAL CURE’ POST as well.  The best way to reach the people you love and care about most?  FACEBOOK, of course (just tag them).


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