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Parkinson Disease and Constipation

Parkinson Disease and Constipation

vitek erica head shot 2020

Erica Vitek, MOT, OTR, BCB-PMD, PRPC has attended extensive post-graduate rehabilitation education in the area of Parkinson disease and exercise. She is certified in LSVT (Lee Silverman Voice Treatment) BIG and is a trained PWR! (Parkinson Wellness Recovery) provider, both focusing on intensive, amplitude, and neuroplasticity-based exercise programs for people with Parkinson disease. Erica has taken a special interest in the unique pelvic floor, bladder, bowel, and sexual health issues experienced by individuals diagnosed with Parkinson disease. You can learn more about this topic in Erica's course, Parkinson Disease and Pelvic Rehabilitation, scheduled for July 23-24, 2021.

Parkinson disease (PD) non-motor symptoms can be even more impactful on quality of life than the cardinal motor symptoms most are familiar with, bradykinesia, rigidity, tremor, and postural instability. The list of non-motor symptoms is extensive affecting many body systems including cognitive, sensory, and autonomic.

Constipation is one of the most common autonomic non-motor symptoms experienced by people with Parkinson disease with studies showing 20-89% prevalence (1). As the disease progresses, individuals are more likely to experience symptoms that suggest a strong relationship between neurodegeneration and bowel dysfunction, such as, decreased frequency of bowel movements, difficulty expelling stool, and diarrhea (2). Constipation has also been hypothesized to be an early indicator for the development of Parkinson disease, and there is ongoing research in this area. It has yet to be shown that constipation is specific enough to predict the development of PD.  

Developing an understanding of Parkinson disease constipation and how it differs from other individuals with constipation can have a strong impact on our recommended pelvic rehabilitation plans of care. In a study published by Zhang, M. et al., 2021, they looked at the characteristics of Parkinson disease with constipation (PDC) compared to functional constipation (FC). Functional constipation is generally defined as difficult, infrequent, or incomplete defecations (3). One of the main findings in this study was a significant difference between the groups when looking at resting rectal and anal canal pressures. In the PDC group, resting rectal and anal pressures were significantly lower. These resting pressures are mainly controlled by the internal anal sphincter resting tension which is supported by the autonomic nervous system. This leads the researchers to speculate there may be autonomic nervous system neuropathy in people with PD

They then looked at simulated defecation, which also showed that the PDC group had significantly lower rectal defecation pressure and a lower anal relaxation rate. Since rectal pressures during defecation assist in effective anal relaxation, the researchers state, “a coordinated movement disorder results” and that people with PD may have “pelvic floor cooperative motion disorder” (1). Additionally, the researchers noted that abnormal abdominal pressure is another main contributing factor to the low rectal defecatory pressure in PDC. Abdominal pressure is a key factor in driving complete and efficient rectal defecation. This is also a finding in numerous other studies in the literature unique in PDC.  

The results of Zhang, M. et al., 2021 reveal the need for pelvic health practitioners to help train coordinated defecation efforts in people with Parkinson disease. In my course, Parkinson disease and Pelvic Rehab, we will have an in-depth discussion about how training defecatory dynamics is different in people with PD. Muscle training principles in this population are very unique. Understanding the underlying causal factors of dysfunction will have a significant impact when helping patients with Parkinson disease manage constipation.


  1. Zhang, M., Yang, S., Li, X. C., Zhu, H. M., Peng, D., Li, B. Y., ... & Tian, C. (2021). Study on the characteristics of intestinal motility of constipation in patients with Parkinson's disease. World Journal of Gastroenterology, 27(11), 1055.
  2. Sakakibara, R. (2021). Gastrointestinal dysfunction in movement disorders. Neurological Sciences, 1-11.
  3. Lacy, B. E., Mearin, F., Chang, L., Chey, W. D., Lembo, A. J., Simren, M., & Spiller, R. (2016). Bowel disorders.Gastroenterology 150 (6), 1393-1407.
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An Update on Pelvic Care for Patients with Parkinson Disease

An Update on Pelvic Care for Patients with Parkinson Disease

Parkinson disease is the second most common neurologic disorder. When most people think about people with Parkinson disease, they think about stooped posture, shuffling gait, slow and rigid movement, balance difficulties and tremoring. Often these motor symptoms are the main target of pharmacological treatments with neurologists and many experience positive functional gains. Non-motor symptoms, however, can be more disabling than the motor symptoms and have significant adverse effects on the quality of life in people with Parkinson disease.

VitekThe pharmacologic management of non-motor autonomic dysfunction, including urinary, bowel, and sexual health impairments, is often ineffective, not supported by adequate research, or causes intolerable side effects for people with Parkinson disease. In a recent article titled “Update on Treatments for Nonmotor Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease – An Evidence-Based Medicine Review.” Seppi, K, et al., 2019, the authors state this about use of a pharmacological treatment approach - “Before attempting any treatment for lower urinary tract symptoms, urinary tract infections, prostate disease in men, and pelvic floor disease in women should be ruled out.” It is rare to see a mention of pelvic floor within the literature that addresses helping people with Parkinson disease.

Pelvic rehabilitation specialists have a unique opportunity to step in and help these individuals improve their quality of life and many neurologists are unaware of the benefits our services could provide for their patients.

Please join me in an exciting dive into understanding the physiology of how Parkinson disease affects a person’s pelvic health and develop your skills to effectively assess and develop treatment plans to change the life of these individuals.


Seppi, K., Ray Chaudhuri, K., Coelho, M., Fox, S. H., Katzenschlager, R., Perez Lloret, S., ... & Hametner, E. M. (2019). Update on treatments for nonmotor symptoms of Parkinson's disease—an evidence‐based medicine review. Movement Disorders, 34(2), 180-198.

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Treating Non-Motor Symptoms of Parkinson Disease

Treating Non-Motor Symptoms of Parkinson Disease

Erica Vitek, MOT, OTR, BCB-PMD, PRPC is the author and presenter of the new Parkinson Disease and Pelvic Rehabilitation course, and she is the co-author of the Neurologic Conditions and Pelvic Floor Rehab course. She is a certified LSVT (Lee Silverman) provider and faculty member, and is a trained PWR! (Parkinson’s Wellness Recovery) provider, both focusing on intensive, amplitude and neuroplasticity based exercise programs for people with Parkinson disease. Erica partners with the Wisconsin Parkinson Association (WPA) as a support group and event presenter as well as author in their publication, The Network. Erica has taken a special interest in the unique pelvic floor, bladder, bowel and sexual health issues experienced by individuals diagnosed with Parkinson disease.

Erica Vitek, MOT, OTR, BCB-PMD, PRPCParkinson disease is the second most common neurologic disorder. When most people think about people with Parkinson disease, they think about stooped posture, shuffling gait, slow and rigid movement, balance difficulties and tremoring. Often these motor symptoms are the main target of pharmacological treatments with neurologists and many experience positive functional gains. Non-motor symptoms, however, can be more disabling than the motor symptoms and have significant adverse effects on the quality of life in people with Parkinson disease.

The pharmacologic management of non-motor autonomic dysfunction, including urinary, bowel, and sexual health impairments, is often ineffective, not supported by adequate research, or causes intolerable side effects for people with Parkinson disease. In a recent article titled Update on Treatments for Nonmotor Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease – An Evidence-Based Medicine Review Seppi, K, et al., 2019, the authors state that “before attempting any [pharmacological] treatment for lower urinary tract symptoms, urinary tract infections, prostate disease in men, and pelvic floor disease in women should be ruled out.” It is rare to see a mention of pelvic floor within the literature that addresses helping people with Parkinson disease.

Pelvic rehabilitation specialists have a unique opportunity to step in and help these individuals improve their quality of life and many neurologists are unaware of the benefits our services could provide for their patients. Please join me in an exciting dive into understanding the physiology of how Parkinson disease affects a person’s pelvic health and develop your skills to effectively assess and develop treatment plans to change the life of these individuals.


Seppi, K., Ray Chaudhuri, K., Coelho, M., Fox, S. H., Katzenschlager, R., Perez Lloret, S., ... & Hametner, E. M. (2019). Update on treatments for nonmotor symptoms of Parkinson's disease—an evidence‐based medicine review. Movement Disorders, 34(2), 180-198

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Using TENS to Treat Overactive Bladder in Parkinson's Patients

Using TENS to Treat Overactive Bladder in Parkinson's Patients

Tibial nerve stimulation has been shown in the literature to be effective for individuals experiencing idiopathic overactive bladder in randomized controlled trials. A systematic review was performed by Schneider, M.P. et al. in 2015 looking at safety and efficacy of its use in neurogenic lower urinary tract dysfunction. Many variables were examined in this review, which included 16 studies after exclusion. The review looked at:

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation Machine
  1. Acute stimulation (used during urodynamic assessment only)
  2. Chronic stimulation (6-12 weeks of daily-weekly use)
  3. Percutaneous or transcutaneous (frequencies, pulse widths, perception thresholds, durations)
  4. Urodynamic parameter changes baseline to post treatment
  5. Post void residual changes
  6. Bladder diary variables
  7. Patient adherence to tibial nerve stimulation
  8. Any adverse events

The exact mechanism of these types of neuromodulation stimulation procedures remains unclear, however it does appear to play a role in neuroplastic reorganization of cortical networks via peripheral afferents. No specific literature is currently available for the mechanism on action related to neurogenic lower urinary tract dysfunction. Different applications of neuromodulation however have been studied in the neurogenic populations.

One of the randomized controlled trials they report on included 13 people with Parkinson disease. The researchers looked at a comparison between the use of transcutaneous tibial nerve stimulation (n = 8) and sham transcutaneous tibial nerve stimulation (n=5). Transcutaneous tibial nerve stimulation (TTNS) or sham stimulation was delivered to the people with Parkinson disease 2x/week for 5 weeks, 30-minute sessions (10 total sessions). Unilateral electrode placement was utilized, first electrode applied below the left medial malleolus and second electrode 5 cm cephalad. Confirmation of placement was obtained with left great toe plantar flexion. It is important to note the use of the stimulation intensity is reduced to below the motor threshold during the active treatment to direct the stimulation via peripheral afferents.

Urodynamic testing was performed at baseline and post treatment and revealed statistically significant differences with greater volumes at strong desire and urgency in the TTNS group. Additionally, the TTNS group experienced a 50% reduction in nocturia whereas in the sham group nocturia frequency remained the same. A three-day bladder diary completed by each of the groups also revealed significant positive changes in frequency, urgency, urge urinary incontinence and hesitancy only in the TTNS group.

Conservative management of neurogenic bladder in populations such as Parkinson disease is very important. These individuals experience lower quality of life ratings related to lower urinary tract dysfunction, higher risk of falling with needs to rush to the bathroom, their caregivers experience a higher level stress and burden of care, and tolerance to anticholinergic medications is very poor with multiple unwanted side effects that compound and worsen other symptoms that might be present from the disease process.

Please join us for Neurologic Conditions and Pelvic Floor Rehab to learn how you can help your patients using this modality as one option. Participate in a lab session to learn electrode placement and other parameters to achieve best clinical results for your patients.


1. Perissinotto, M. C., D'Ancona, C. A. L., Lucio, A., Campos, R. M., & Abreu, A. (2015). Transcutaneous tibial nerve stimulation in the treatment of lower urinary tract symptoms and its impact on health-related quality of life in patients with Parkinson disease: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Wound Ostomy & Continence Nursing, 42(1), 94-99.
2. Schneider, M. P., Gross, T., Bachmann, L. M., Blok, B. F., Castro-Diaz, D., Del Popolo, G., ... & Kessler, T. M. (2015). Tibial nerve stimulation for treating neurogenic lower urinary tract dysfunction: a systematic review. European urology, 68(5), 859-867.

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People with Parkinson disease can MOVE!

People with Parkinson disease can MOVE!

Akinesia is a term typically used to describe the movement dysfunction observed in people with Parkinson disease. It is defined as a poverty of movement, an impairment or loss of the power to move, and a slowness in movement initiation. There is an observable loss of facial expression, loss of associated nonverbal communicative movements, loss of arm swing with gait, and overall small amplitude movements throughout all skeletal muscles in the body. The cause of this characteristic profile of movement is due to loss of dopamine production in the brain which causes a lack of cortical stimulation for movement.

If the loss of dopamine production in the brain causes this poverty of movement in all skeletal muscles the body, how does the pelvic floor function in the person with Parkinson disease and what should the pelvic floor rehabilitation professional know about treating the pelvic floor in this population of patients?

Let’s take a closer look referencing a very telling article about Parkinson disease and skeletal muscle function. In the Italian town of L’Aquila, a major devastating 6-point Richter scale earthquake occurred on April 6, 2009. 309 people died and there was destruction and collapse of many historical structures, some greater than 100 years old. The nearby movement disorder clinic had been following 31 Parkinson disease patients in the area, 17 of them higher functioning and the other 14 much lower functioning. In fact, of those 14, 10 of them were affected by severe freezing episodes with severe nighttime akinesia requiring assistance with bed mobility tasks, 1 was completely bedridden and the others with major fluctuations in motor performance. 13 of the 14 patients also had fluctuating cognitive functioning.

This devastating earthquake occurred at 3:30 am. All 14 of these patients were able to escape from their homes during or immediately following the event. Caregivers reported that in the majority of the cases, the person with Parkinson’s disease was the first one to be alerted to the earthquake, the first one to get out of the house, ability to alert relatives to run for safety, physically assisting relatives out of the collapsing buildings, and in some cases independently escaping down 1-2 flights of stairs.

Paradoxical kinesia is thought to be the reason for this all but sudden ability to move normally within the presence of an immediate threat to their life and lives of loved ones. Paradoxical kinesia is defined as “a sudden and brief period of mobility typically seen in response to emotional and physical stress in patient’s with advanced idiopathic Parkinson’s disease.” There are a few mechanisms hypothesized to play a role, such as, adrenaline, dopaminergic reserves activating the flight reaction, and compensatory nearby cerebellar circuitry.

There is no pathological evidence that in Parkinson disease there is any break in the continuity of the motor system. The neurologic pathways are all intact and the ability to produce muscle power is retained however requires a strong base of clinic knowledge of the disease to help these patients activate these intact motor pathways. I look forward to sharing the neurologic basis of these deficits in Parkinson disease and strategies in pelvic floor rehab to do just that!

Erica Vitek, a specialist in treating patients with neurologic dysfunction, is the author and instructor of Neurologic Conditions and Pelvic Floor Rehab, taking place September 14-16, 2018 in Grand Rapids, MI.


Bonanni, L., Thomas, A., Anzellotti, F., Monaco, D., Ciccocioppo, F., Varanese, S., Bifolchetti, S., D’Amico, M.C., Di Iorio, A. & Onofrj, M. (2010). Protracted benefit from paradoxical kinesia in typical and atypical parkinsonisms. Neurological sciences, 31(6), 751-756.

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Putting on My Neuro “Brain”

Putting on My Neuro “Brain”

Erica Vitek, MOT, OTR, BCB-PMD, PRPC is the author and instructor of Neurologic Conditions and Pelvic Floor Rehab, a new course coming to Grand Rapids, MI and Philadelphia, PA. This post is the next in her series on creating a course about neurologic conditions and pelvic rehabilititation.

Being a clinician, as we evaluate and treat people with pelvic health conditions, we typically take all systems of the body into account. We take the problem presented to us by the client and we examine, from all angles, how we might go about advice and treatment to best achieve their goals in alleviating the problem. We do a full review of medical history and pharmacology. We examine our client in-depth from a musculoskeletal perspective. We look at psychological contributions to the problem they are facing. We can look at their lifestyle and have them make a detailed diary to help us analyze their bladder, bowel, fluid intake and dietary habits. Do we also always include a look at the neurological components? Do we know what we are looking for? What are the best tools we can have in our toolbox as clinicians to look at our client’s problem through a “neuro brain”?

In writing each lecture of this course, I have had to step back each time I am developing a new concept and look at it with in-depth thought and contemplation about how I will use this in the clinic to assess my client’s concerns using a neuro-based approach. Taking the concepts and facts about the musculoskeletal system that we know well and then taking a look at the neurological systems contributions and relationship to that dysfunction can be challenging. The main reason for this challenge is that neuro system dysfunction is many times hard explain, presents with inconsistent or changing symptoms, may have motor or sensory deficits together or by themselves, may radiate to different locations than where the true dysfunction is located, and may have developed into central sensitization causing a hypervigilance to typically non-painful stimuli.

In brain storming our ideas for course creation, much was said about thinking back to college or other continuing education courses and “learning a little about a lot of things neuro” but not the in-depth knowledge one might want to have when focusing their attention on specific neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson disease, demyelinating diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis, injury to the brain due to cerebral vascular accident or incomplete or complete spinal cord injury.

As I progress deep into the development of this course, I have my “neuro brain” on and a persistent focus set on providing clinicians with as much in-depth information on neurological contributions to pelvic floor function and dysfunction. I want clinicians to walk away from this course feeling confident that through evaluation of a client that has been diagnosed with Parkinson disease, Multiple Sclerosis or suffered a spinal cord injury, they would have the tools to develop an in-depth treatment plan that would provide these clients with the best results possible to improve their quality of life. I also want clinicians to have the confidence to market themselves to their local neurologists. This is an entirely new avenue for developing a referral base in pelvic health work. Many times for clients who have chronic neurological conditions, the problem list is long and bladder, bowel and sexual health concerns might not even be broached within the very short physician appointment times. We can give our neurologists new treatments to be confident in and excited about to improve their patient’s quality of life!

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Reflections on course design and development: Evolution of an idea

Reflections on course design and development: Evolution of an idea

The following is the first in a series of posts by Erica Vitek, MOT, OTR, BCB-PMD, PRPC. Erica joined the Herman & Wallace faculty in 2018 and is the author of Neurologic Conditions and Pelvic Floor Rehab.

Erica VitekA well-respected colleague of mine brought something to my attention. My desire to learn everything possible about Parkinson disease and pelvic health was a unique passion, a combination of expertise not seen in many rehabilitation clinics.

Looking back, being passionate about how to physically exercise a person with Parkinson disease to produce the best functional outcome actually became a passion of mine when I was offered my first job. I was thrown into treating people with Parkinson disease in an acute care setting. I had very limited knowledge about Parkinson disease at the time, but I learned quickly from the vast opportunity that was offered to me through my place of work, which was the regions sought after Parkinson disease center of excellence. At the same time, I was eager to further advance my skills as a pelvic floor therapist, which I developed a substantial interest in when I was in college.

As I learned more about what people with Parkinson disease had to manage in their daily lives, it became very clear to me that autonomic dysfunction was a very challenging, and sometimes disabling, aspect of the disease. Being knowledgeable about the neurological and musculoskeletal system along with the urinary, gastrointestinal, and sexual systems seemed to fit well together but there was no specific place to go to combine this knowledge. The research I began collecting on this topic was abundant and very intriguing. Bringing this information together could be practice changing for me to help people living with Parkinson disease.

As clinicians, we already know how to be understanding about the very personal details of the people we work with. People with Parkinson disease deal with an extra layer of challenge, such as, bradykinesia, freezing of gait, and tremor affecting their day to day self-care and relationships. Adding urinary incontinence, constipation or sexual dysfunction to the list makes for even more difficult management.

How does one clinician share their passion with other clinicians that also have the same desires to give the best care to their patients with Parkinson disease? Having a great deal of respect for Herman and Wallace and what they have to offer clinicians practicing pelvic rehabilitation, it seemed like it could be the perfect fit for a course like this. The work that would lie ahead if this idea took off was overwhelming but did not hinder me from my proposal. In fact, it has led to an even larger scope addressing the of treatment of the pelvic floor for a multitude of neurologic conditions many of us see daily in our clinics. Pulling it all together to share is a process that will reward not only people with Parkinson disease in my practice but hopefully yours as well.

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Upcoming Continuing Education Courses

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