Resistance training improves dexterity and steadiness for essential tremor.

Resistance Training Helps Manage Essential Tremors

Winston Churchill said, “Kites rise highest against the wind – not with it.” This is an inspiring metaphor for using resistance to gain new horizons. If you are living with essential tremor (ET), you may feel like your personal horizons are shrinking due to loss of controlled movement and manual dexterity. On top of that, feelings of embarrassment can interfere with your social life, leading to restrictions in activities with friends and family. When correctly evaluated and diagnosed by a specialist, proper medication often manages symptoms. However, many ET patients actively look for ways to reduce dependency on pharmacology, or make it more effective using natural means.

Exercise is one way to gain improved physical function. Some exercises, such a yoga, have value-added stress management because stress can trigger more pronounced tremors. In addition, there is a way to target hand tremors – the most common type of ET – by practicing resistance training of the arms.

Resistance training (RT) means working muscle groups against an external form of resistance such as weights or large rubber bands. This is like rising “against the wind.” RT increases muscle strength, tone and even endurance, but it is not always done just to make upper limbs stronger. Three different research studies on resistance training for ET highlight the benefits of upper limb RT:

1. A study of 13 ET patients divided them into three groups: one that trained with heavy loads, one with light loads, and one who had no RT. Those who were in the heavy load group exhibited decreased tremor magnitude, whereas the other two groups showed no change.
2. A smaller study (6 patients) involved a 6-week RT program using dumbbells for bicep curls, wrist flexion, and wrist extension twice a week. The researchers tracked changes in upper limb strength, manual dexterity and quality of life using several measures. The researchers reported significant strength and manual dexterity improvements, especially for the most affected limb.
3. The third study compared the effects of high-load RT on two groups: 10 ET patients and 9 healthy controls. Both groups participated in 6 weeks of training, with manual dexterity and force tremor assessed before and after training. According to the authors, better strength “aligned with improvements in manual dexterity and tremor-most notably for the ET group,” suggesting that upper limb RT can “improve aspects of manual dexterity and reduce force tremor in older ET patients.”

Taken together, these studies point to the value of upper limb resistance training for helping ET patients manage the impact of tremor on fine motor tasks, and reduce the amplitude of tremor when exerting manual strength.

For ET patients with tremors that are poorly controlled by medication, the Sperling Medical Group provides expert image-based evaluation, diagnosis, and a noninvasive treatment called MRI-guided Focused Ultrasound (MRgFUS) with the potential to eliminate or greatly reduce tremors.