How to thaw a freeze

Updated: May 15

By Liz Yates Horton PT, DPT, NCS

Freezing is a common symptom for those with Parkinson's Disease (PD). Do you ever feel like your feet are super glued to the floor when you are trying to walk? Do you ever feel like you know what you want to say but can't get the words out? You are not alone. Between 27% and 65% of those with PD experience this symptom with this becoming more of an issue in the later stages. It is an intermittent slowing and incoordination of movement. Freezing is often context dependent, meaning that there can be specific triggers. It most commonly happens when starting to walk, when walking around an obstacle or a busy area (grocery story), going through a doorway, walking in a narrow hallway, or when getting ready to stand. In a later post we will discuss how this can impact speech and some strategies to help with feeling stuck.

The exact reason why people "freeze" is not known but these episodes can occur during "off" times of medication, times of stress and when trying to do 2 or more things at once. Another thought is that freezing is related to a mismatch between your motor system and your perception system. Body awareness and visual navigation (depth perception, contrast, ocular misalignment with 1/3 of people with PD have double vision) can be impacted by PD. Freezing can be a cause of imbalance and falls and a major source of frustration

As with any motor or non motor symptom associated with Parkinson's Disease it is helpful to discuss this with your neurologist and develop specific strategies with your physical or occupational therapist. Performing therapy combining movement and cognitive tasks can be beneficial to work on developing effective strategies.

Here are some strategies that may work for you:

- Walk with gusto and purpose. Standing tall can help set you up for success.

Imagine a line in front of you to step over. If there are specific areas of your home that are triggers you may want to use a bright piece of electrical tape to provide the visual cue.

Try the the 4 S s to thaw a freeze

1. Stop

2. Stand Tall

3. Sway side to side

4. Step with your sticky foot

- Use of music, humming or counting. Use of a metronome. There are a variety of free apps that you can download to use on a smart device.

Pro Metronome, Metro Timer, Real Metronome, Metronome+

- Using a visual target on the floor to step over. You cans also use a laser to give a target to step to. This can be done with a laser pointer. There are assistive devices available that have a laser pointer built in.

We hope these tips and tricks keep you moving!


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