Walking with Parkinson’s: Freezing, Balance and Falls

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Parkinson's Foundation

Parkinson’s disease (PD) can change the way a person walks. Movement Symptoms like stiff muscles, rigidity and slow movement make it harder to take normal steps. In fact, short, shuffling steps are a common sign of PD, as is freezing, the feeling that your feet are stuck to the floor, for people with mid-stage to advanced PD.

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Rigidity (Stiffness)

 

Rigidity, while seldom the main symptom early in Parkinson’s, is experienced as a stiffness of the arms or legs beyond what would result from normal aging or arthritis. Some people call it “tightness” in their limbs. Stiffness can occur on one or both sides of the body and contribute to a decreased range of motion. This can lead to problems with achiness or pain in the muscles or joints affected.

Stooped Posture

Parkinson’s affects control of automatic activities, so posture changes may occur without the brain’s automatic reminders to stand up straight. These changes may include stooped or rounded shoulders, decreased low back curve or forward lean of the head or whole body, making you look hunched over.

There are several factors that can lead to changes in posture:

Dyskinesia

Dyskinesias are involuntary, erratic, writhing movements of the face, arms, legs or trunk. They are often fluid and dance-like, but they may also cause rapid jerking or slow and extended muscle spasms. They are not a symptom of Parkinson's itself. Rather, they are a complication from some Parkinson's medications.

Dyskinesias usually begin after a few years of treatment with levodopa and can often be alleviated by adjusting dopaminergic medications. Younger people with PD are thought to develop earlier motor fluctuations and dyskinesias in response to levodopa.

Dizziness or Fainting

Orthostatic hypotension (OH) is a drop in blood pressure that happens when you go from a seated position or lying down to standing. Certain medications (including those for high blood pressure), dehydration and conditions such as heart disease increase this risk.

Loss of Smell

Not all people with reduced sense of smell will go on to develop Parkinson’s, but most people with PD have some loss of their sense of smell.

In fact, reduced sense of smell, called hyposmia, is often an early sign of Parkinson’s. Looking back, you may realize you were losing your sense of smell several years before you received a Parkinson’s diagnosis.

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