As Parkinson’s disease (PD) progresses, people with PD may experience freezing of gait or “freezing” episodes. Freezing of gait is the temporary, involuntary inability to move. Not all people with PD experience freezing episodes, but those who do have a greater risk of falling. Usually, freezing only lasts a few seconds, but it is one of the more frustrating and dangerous symptoms of PD.
You may not always be able to prevent a freezing episode, but you can recognize when this Parkinson’s symptom may happen and what you can do to minimize injury.
What is freezing?
Freezing of gait is the temporary, involuntary inability to move.
- During a freezing episode, a person with PD may feel like their feet are stuck in place, or glue to the ground.
- Freezing may also affect other parts of the body or speech.
- Some people are more likely to have freezing episodes than others.
- Freezing may occur when the person with PD is due for the next dose of dopaminergic medications. This is called “off” freezing — usually, freezing episodes lessen after taking the medicine.
- The exact cause of freezing is unknown.
What can trigger a freezing episode?
Freezing can occur at any time, but freezing episodes tend to happen more often when a person with Parkinson’s is in transition. Freezing most often occurs when:
- Transitioning from standing to walking
- Walking through a doorway
- Turning a corner
- Turning around
- Stepping from one type of surface to another.
- Experiencing a stressful situation or attempting multitasking.
Freezing and Falls
About 38 percent of people living with Parkinson’s fall each year. PD-related falls occur mostly when turning or changing directions and are often related to a freezing episode.
- Not everyone living with PD will experience freezing episodes, but those who do are at a much higher risk of falling.
- Freezing creates a danger of falling because the beginning and end of a freezing episode are unpredictable.
- The unpredictability of freezing, along with efforts by well-meaning companions to force the person with PD to move, may cause loss of balance and falls.
Managing Freezing Episodes
Talk to your doctor if you experience frequent freezing episodes. Adjusting your PD treatment may be helpful.
You may also ask about seeing a physical and/or occupational therapist. Physical therapists and occupational therapists trained in Parkinson’s disease can teach you techniques that reduce your risk of falling.
Overcoming a Freezing Episode
How can a friend or family member help?
Page reviewed by Dr. Bhavana Patel, Movement Disorders Neurologist at the University of Florida, a Parkinson’s Foundation Center of Excellence.