8th… From Out-Thinking… Hands

“The hands and fingers, and their use or lack thereof, have key roles either in the rate of degeneration or in progressive symptom reduction.”

“If no interventions are put in place to remedy the situation, the hands of people with PD become stiffer, with fingers more curled up and eventually the ability to pick things up, grasp or push and pull is lost…. Under chronic stress the use and senses of our hands become inhibited, as the body draws its energies inwards to protect vital organs: while we can survive the loss of a limb or two to a lion, we can’t survive having our guts ripped open, so our fingers are de-prioritized from the brain and body’s resources. When unnaturally stressed too frequently or for extended time, due to the pressures of modern life for example, this loss of dexterity and proprioception (sense of relative position and effort needed to move) in our hands, and loss of senses of touch, can become permanent. The nerve fibre connections responsible become harder to fire up as the networks of motor and sensing neurons continue to atrophy.  Indeed, the diminishing of the range of movement of the hands is one of the very first signs of PD: one the earliest symptoms which become obvious in people developing PD manifests as handwriting getting smaller and smaller.”

“This lack of ability to use the hands can have knock-on negative effects for the senses and muscles in other parts of the body too, since it also inhibits self-touch. In particular, it may become more difficult to touch/compress/hold pain points of the body, thus amplifying these pains and problems, since touching pain points is a natural pain relieving mechanism and down regulate excited states of the Nervous System. Self-touch lets our Nervous System know we have heeded the internal alarm and have paid attention. Indeed, in his book on Dystonia, Dr Joaquin Farias emphasizes the importance of touching the affected muscles.”

“Conversely, the use of our hands for complex tasks is “stress interrupting”, so using our hands in specific ways can be calming on the Nervous System. This is especially true when using the hands for tasks which require use of other senses, such as hand-eye-co-ordination or clapping along to music, which bring into play other parts of the brain. Indeed, those practices which we now know can delay the progression and aid symptom reduction in people with PD all appear to involve the hands intimately. Riding bicycles, unlike walking, involves the handle bars and the breaks, while walking with poles and sticks seems to increase the benefit of that exercise. Tai-Chi, Yoga, Qi Gong, Gyrokinetics all also focus heavily on hand shaping and on the hands leading movements. Ballet involves the expression of the hands. Then there is boxing exercise, which is proving one of the most beneficial forms for PD, which could not be more hands focused.”

“Therefore hand exercises and finger stimulation are critically important for preventing the ravishes of neuronal atrophy in PD, and also to strengthen “para-sympathetic tone”, enhancing the ability to maintain a relaxed state, so important for people affected by the disease. Indeed, the story of Chris Lacey is intriguing, with reports he is now free from PD symptoms after intensive carving of chess pieces as a hobby.”

“The importance of hands and fingers is hence profound for those of us who have been diagnosed with chronic disease.”