Common Symptoms Associated with Parkinsonian Gait
By: Dr. Sarah Somers and Tricia O’Driscoll
One of the most common things you may notice about a loved one with Parkinson’s disease is the characteristics of their walk. They may move slower, have difficulty at the grocery store, or even walking and talking at the same time. In this blog we are going to discuss the typical presentation and provide some tips to help improve their gait and overall function and confidence with walking in public.
Shuffling feet is one of the most common characteristics associated with walking. This decreases the speed of their walk and places them at increased risk for tripping over their own feet. Another safety concern and aspect of Parkinsonian gait is slouched posture with their vision looking towards the ground. They may also walk with a few side asymmetries such as decreased arm swing on one side of the body, or unequal step length.
Another common symptom is what we call freezing of gait. Patients with Parkinson’s disease have a difficult time starting and stopping when related to walking. This can also be noticed when a loved one takes several small steps when starting to walk, or what we call festinating gait. They may also do this when they are in tight spaces, such as when going to the couch if there is a coffee table, or when turning around to sit in a chair. There are 3 tips that can help reduce freezing of gait:
- Postural Re-Set: Whenever you find yourself frozen in your walking or activity at hand, take a deep breath and stand up as tall as possible, as if someone is pulling your head to the ceiling.
- Initiate a BIG Step: Whenever you find yourself shuffling or frozen in walking or any activity, initiate walking with a powerful step, purposefully picking your foot up off the floor and advancing it in front of you while resetting your posture.
- Gaze Fixation: Whenever you find yourself frozen in your walking or any activity, take your gaze straight ahead, rather than at the floor while resetting your posture.
All of these elements of Parkinsonian gait contribute to increased fall risk for your loved ones and 38-70% of people with Parkinson’s disease fall annually. This is why every physical therapy session we work on walking mechanics – to help improve their posture while walking, to be able to look up/left/right while walking, to talk and walk at the same time, and to overall improve their balance and decrease their fall risk. We are able to provide external and verbal cues to help them be successful and gain the confidence they need for walking in the community. We also use interventions such as LSVT BIG and Rock Steady Boxing to help improve their balance and research has shown the translation with walking.