Overcoming “Freeze”

A common symptom experienced by people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) is “freezing”: a sudden, but temporary, inability to move. It can happen at any time, such as when walking (called a freezing gait) or when attempting to rise from a seated position. Freezing episodes seem to occur primarily when initiating movement or navigating around obstacles. The exact cause of freezing is unknown, although sometimes it occurs when the person is due for their next dose of medication.1,2

Negative consequences of freezing

Freezing episodes limit the mobility of a person with PD and may contribute to reduced socialization and a lower quality of life. In addition, freezing can be dangerous and is associated with falls in people with PD. Approximately 38% of people with PD fall each year, and freezing increases the risk of falls as freezing occurs without warning. Falls can cause additional health problems, including broken bones or head injury.1,2

Techniques to overcome freezing

Physical therapy and occupational therapy can be helpful to reduce or overcome freezing episodes. Physical therapy focuses on the physical rehabilitation of people recovering from injuries or disease with the goal of restoring mobility, as well as educating patients on managing their condition to maintain long-term benefits. Occupational therapy also deals with rehabilitation and motion but is focused more on enabling the person to engage in daily activities as seamlessly as possible. Occupational therapists also suggest adaptations and modifications to the person’s environment.3

There are several techniques that can help people with PD overcome freezing, including:

  • Use music. Humming or singing a song while walking to the rhythm can help keep you moving.
  • Try a metronome. Metronomes keep a steady beat, and walking to the beat can help reduce freezing.
  • Change direction. If you can’t move straight ahead, try stepping to the side first, or take a step back, before going forward.
  • Shift your weight from side to side before attempting a step can help initiate movement.
  • March in place, lifting your knees as high as you can, before stepping forward.
  • Move another part of your body. If your legs won’t move, swing your arms first and then try moving your legs again.
  • Imagine a line in front of you. Visualize a line in front of you and step over it. For spots in the house that are consistently tricky, like a doorway, you can use tape on the floor to create a line to step over.
  • Use a laser pointer. Shine the laser in front of you and step on or over it.
  • Ask for help. Ask a friend or family member for a gentle nudge.
  • Practice dancing. The movements of dance are rhythmic and can help strengthen your balance and fluidity.
  • Exercise in intervals. Interval training on a stationary bike involves changing the direction or rate of activity. This can help improve strength and motor functioning.1,2,4,5

As with any symptom, patients who experience freezing episodes should mention this to their neurologist who is managing their care. The neurologist may make changes to medication or provide a referral to a physical or occupational therapist.

Written by: Emily Downward | Last reviewed: March 2017
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