Parkinson’s and Head Trauma – is there a connection?

Parkinson's disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects predominantly dopamine-producing neurons in a specific area of the brainstem called substantia nigra. Symptoms include tremor (mainly at rest and described as pill rolling tremor in the hands), bradykinesia (slow movements), limb rigidity (stiff arms and legs), gait and balance problems; these symptoms generally progress over a number of years.

The symptoms are due to a lack of the hormone dopamine being produced in the substantia nigra, however the cause of the lack of dopamine production is not currently known. Some studies have demonstrated links between head injuries and the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. 

Repeated Head Trauma and Parkinson’s

Float Like a Butterfly…

One of the greatest sportsmen of all time, Muhammad Ali, was famously diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at the end of his boxing career at the age of only 42. Later it was reported that he was showing signs of the disease even before the end of his career. Could this have been due to the multiple head traumas that an elite level boxer sustains over the course of their career? 

In more recent years there has been a connection made between head trauma and the onset of Parkinson’s disease. Multiple impacts to the head over a lifetime will accumulate effects on the body. It may not just be brain tissue being impacted but other structures in the spine that can impact nervous system function and the onset of symptoms. 

Upper Cervical Vertebrae

When head trauma occurs it is rarely just the head or brain that is injured in isolation. The neck is often involved as it supports the head; it will take some of the force sustained from an impact. Due to the nature of the anatomy of the upper cervical spine the vertebrae are susceptible to misalignment. Click here to read our blog post about how misalignment of the vertebrae can affect Parkinson's.

Can Concussions Contribute to Parkinson’s?

There are a number of studies indicating a link between head trauma resulting in concussion increasing risk of Parkinson’s disease. One meta-analysis reviewing multiple studies on Parkinson’s patients with history of head trauma found that there was a positive correlation between head injury and development of Parkinson’s. Another study found a link between Parkinson’s disease and cumulative head trauma from contact sports. Links to Parkinson’s have been found in people who experienced change in consciousness due to head trauma. 

Head injuries are not uncommon even among non-athletes. If you do experience a head injury it is important to have it correctly assessed especially if you lose consciousness or display symptoms of concussion. It is also important to consider seeing an upper cervical specialist to have your spine and nervous system analysed for signs of injury that could be dealt with early on. 

Click here for our blog post about post-concussion syndrome

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