Can head injuries trigger the onset of Parkinson's disease (PD)? This is a topic that has been debated in medicine for years. In a new study published in JAMA Neurology (Dr. Crane, MD; September 2016), researchers find stronger reason to be concerned about the long-term effects of head injuries, particularly when it comes to Parkinson's disease.
The scientists studied over 7,000 Americans who reported on their history of head injuries and underwent regular cognitive testing. The researchers focused on people who had head injuries with loss of consciousness, and analyzed how these incidences affected the development of brain disorders such as Parkinson's. The study concluded that people with head injuries had a 3.5-fold higher chance of developing Parkinson's than those who did not, and people who were unconscious for a longer time showed a doubling of Parkinson's progression compared with those who did not have any head trauma.
The findings are important as a warning that even a single head injury - if it results in loss of consciousness - can have a lasting impact on brain health, years or even decades later.
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.
While the cause of Parkinson's disease has been questioned in the medical community for decades, 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 and neck contributes to the damage of these substantia nigra cells. There are some researchers who believe that the problem is isolated in the upper neck; that the skull and upper neck vertebrae become dislodged or misaligned by trauma, which can damage brainstem cells. These same researchers believe that correction to trauma-induced injuries at the upper neck may reverse the brainstem damage that leads to PD.
While more research is needed to determine the causal factors for PD, head and neck trauma appears to be an area worthy of further research.
With over 20 years of experience as a specialist in the upper cervical spine, Upper Cervical Chiropractor Dr. Erin Elster, D.C., has published research discussing the connection between head trauma and PD onset. For more information, or to schedule an appointment, contact Dr. Elster in Kahului at (808) 866-6551 or www.erinelster.com.