Sport climbing in Parkinson's disease

Sport climbing in Parkinson’s disease

A new investigation revealed that sport climbing is highly effective and feasible in mildly to moderately affected Parkinson’s disease (PD) patients

Besides pharmacological and invasive therapies, exercise is one of the fundamental pillars in PD treatment. It is widely known today that physical exercise has the ability to improve motor symptoms in PD. In addition to the undisputable symptomatic relief provided by physical activity, there is emerging evidence of potential disease-modifying effects demonstrated both at the cellular level through improvement of neuroplasticity and at the behavioral level resulting in physiological, functional, and clinical improvement. Climbing sports has great potential to soon make it onto the list of recognized attractive and effective sports for PD patients.

A new randomised controlled study, evaluated the effects of climbing in PD patients. Top-rope climbing was investigated in terms of effectiveness and feasibility in a 12-week intervention with mild to moderately affected PD patients without prior climbing experience.

A total of 48 PD patients without experience in climbing (average age 64 ± 8 years, Hoehn & Yahr stage 2-3) were assigned either to participate in a 12-week sport climbing course (SC) or to attend an unsupervised physical training group (UT). The primary outcome was the improvement of symptoms on the Movement Disorder Society-Sponsored Revision of the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale part III (MDS-UPDRS-III). Sport climbing was associated with a significant reduction of the MDS-UPDRS-III (-12.9 points; 95% CI -15.9 to -9.8), while no significant improvement was to be found in the UT (-3.0 points; 95% CI -6.0 to 0.1). Bradykinesia, rigidity and tremor subscales significantly improved in SC, but not in the unsupervised control group. In terms of feasibility, the study showed a 99% adherence of participants to climbing sessions and a drop-out rate of only 8%. No adverse events occurred.

This randomized controlled trial shows that this type of sports is a feasible sport even for inexperienced PD patients and that it significantly improves motor symptoms in PD. The effect was greater than that of most previous studies on other forms of exercise or classical physiotherapy. In contrast to climbing, unsupervised physical training in the control group only stabilised but did not improve, motor symptoms. Moreover, climbing turned out to be safe, highly feasible as well as motivating to the patients. The results presented here provide class III evidence for the efficiency of this exercise to reduce motor deficits in PD and demonstrate that climbing is also a highly attractive sport for PD patients.

Source: Langer A, Hasenauer S, Flotz A, Gassner L, Pokan R, Dabnichki P, Wizany L, Gruber J, Roth D, Zimmel S, Treven M, Schmoeger M, Willinger U, Maetzler W, Zach H. A randomised controlled trial on effectiveness and feasibility of sport climbing in Parkinson’s disease. NPJ Parkinsons Dis. 2021 Jun 10;7(1):49. doi: 10.1038/s41531-021-00193-8. PMID: 34112807.

Image: mountain project