Essential tremor is a neurological disorder that causes tremors, most commonly in the hands of sufferers. If you’ve recently been diagnosed and are wondering whether it’s wise to continue lifting weights with essential tremor, then the good news is that not only can you continue to lift weights, it may actually be beneficial for the condition.
I noticed that my father had developed a tremor in his late 40s. He worked on a drawing board during the day, and I can recall seeing the pen shake in his hands as he held it and marveling at how he could create such precise drawings despite this tremor that he had.
It never really bothered him until around two decades later when the shake had become so noticeable that he saw fit to contact his doctor. Parkinsons was quickly ruled out as his tremor would disappear with the consumption of alcohol – a feature not seen in tremors caused by Parkinsons.
It has since dissipated somewhat and he get’s on with life despite the annoying tremors that are sometimes noticeable by others.
But what about those of you who suffer with incidental tremor and are wondering whether it’s safe to lift weights?
In this article, we’ll explore the issues that you need to be aware of and I’ll even be sharing with you exciting news about a new treatment that is now being rolled out by the NHS in England.
But first, a quick disclaimer: nothing in this article shall be construed as medical advice and you should seek the opinion of a healthcare professional concerning any tremors that you may be suffering from.
Introduction: What is Essential Tremor?
Essential tremor is a neurological disorder that causes tremors, most commonly in the arms and hands.
With that said, the condition can cause involuntary tremors in just about any part of the body and it can cause difficulties when performing every-day tasks such as picking up a cup to drink or trying to thread a needle.
Essential Tremor causes small, rapid tremors which can affect both sides of the body – but the tremors my differ in severity limb from limb.
While essential tremor is not considered to be a serious condition, it can cause embarrassment and affect mental health.
As I mentioned above, it can sometimes be confused with Parkinson’s but the two conditions are distinct and Parkinsons is often ruled out by the ‘alcohol test’. This is where the patient is asked whether the tremors subside after the consumption of alcohol. If they do, then it’s very unlikely that Parkinsons is the cause of the tremors.
While essential tremor has been known to occur at any age, it is most likely to be experienced in those aged 40 and older.
Should You Lift Weights With Essential Tremor?
If you lift weights and have recently been diagnosed with Essential Tremor, then subject to the advice of your healthcare professional you should definitely continue to enjoy lifting weights.
Resistance training confers so many benefits to health that you definitely want to continue lifting if at all possible.
However, if your tremors are affecting your legs and core and are causing you to have balance issues, then you want to swap out free weights for cable based workouts for your own safety.
However, there is now evidence that resistance training can have a positive impact for older individuals who suffer from Essential Tremor.
This 2015 study which looked at Essential Tremor and the effect of resistance training found that “…generalized upper limb RT [resistance training] program has the potential to improve aspects of manual dexterity and reduce force tremor in older ET patients.”
Given that resistance training was shown to have a positive impact on the symptoms of Essential Tremor, then regardless of your age, it makes sense to incorporate some strength training in your fitness regime so that you can start benefiting too.
Will Lifting Weights Improve the Handwriting of those with Essential Tremor?
One area of life that is often harshly affected by Essential Tremor is handwriting.
Often, those who suffer with Essential Tremor have frail, shaky handwriting.
This made me consider whether there would be any merit in pursuing a training regime specifically focused on hand strength – it would seem to make sense that stronger hands may shake less, and that perhaps the act of training the hands would negate the symptoms.
However, the only study I was able to find concerning hand strength and Essential Tremor concluded that while they found that the resistance training lead to a small increase in grip strength, there was no improvement in handwriting.
The summary of the study doesn’t detail the specific exercises that were being undertaken and as such I still wonder whether some hand-specific strength training would be helpful.
From time to time, I have used hand-grippers to train my hand and grip strength and have found the Captains of Crush hand grippers to be quality, challenging grippers that deliver an awesome pump to the forearms.
Can Essential Tremor be Cured?
So now that we’ve known that lifting weights is potentially very useful for those with Essential Tremor and that they may also want to experiment with grip training, let’s have a look at the treatments available.
Up until quite recently, it was generally accepted that there was no cure for Essential Tremor and when researching this article, Google, or rather the pages in the search results, were adamant that there is no cure.
Treatment was centered around medication and, for more severe cases, deep brain stimulation – a type of brain surgery.
However, the NHS in the UK has recently approved a new ultrasonic treatment called transcranial magnetic resonance guided focused ultrasound thalamotomy which has been reported as a near-cure for many patients.
This cutting edge procedure, which takes place under local anesthetic, requires only a one night hospital stay and recovery period of about one month afterwards when it is advised that the patient shouldn’t drive.
The treatment provides immediate relief and clinics offering the treatment report that patients experience an average of 75% reduction in tremors and that the results are long-lasting.
Don’t Let Essential Tremor Deter You From Lifting Weights
It’s good news all round. Not only can you continue to lift weights with Essential Tremor, but if you don’t currently lift weights then you should look to start!
Take it easy at first, and for some great advice that will accelerate your progress, check our guide to building muscle after the age of 60 (hint: you don’t need to be over 60 to benefit from some of the tips on offer).
We’ve looked at the latest cutting edge treatment which promises a non-invasive, safe and effective intervention that is changing the lives of those worst affected by Essential Tremor.
If you suffer from Essential Tremor I’d love to hear from you – so leave a comment.
I hope that this article will inspire you to workout and keep healthy.