Get through freezing episodes and strengthen your stride with cues from a metronome, bouncing along a balance-challenging nylon strap, and other tips.
Parkinson’s can affect the way you walk. It’s not surprising these often-visible problems—which include shuffling, shortened or too-fast steps, and a freezing gait—are among the most frustrating symptoms for people with this disease.
Freezing of gait, in particular, is a big problem. According to 2017 research from the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease, people with PD say the disease gets in the way of their ability to walk properly more than any other motor or non-motor symptom.
The good news is that there are many strategies to improve gait and freezing episodes. Gaining a stronger, more confident stride will help you maintain or improve your mobility and the independence that comes with it.
Looking for nimble feet? Try these five tips:
1. Feel the beat.
Our ears can help our feet establish a rhythm, and many studies have shown using audio cues from a metronome or counting out time can get you moving out of freezing episode.
Wear a clip-on metronome on your belt or download a metronome app for your smartphone; when you freeze, turn it on and use the beat to help you restart your steps. You can also try saying “1, 2, 3, go” out loud or in your head and taking a step forward on “go.”
Listening to music while walking can also help you walk faster and take longer, better-timed steps, according to studies comparing walking between people moving to a groove and those walking in silence.
2. Use visual cues.
Your eyes can help rid your feet of that glued-to-the-floor feeling, which often happens when something interrupts your normal walking rhythm. This can be a doorway, changing direction or turning around, or a distracting object or environment.
Try using a laser pointer to beam a line onto the floor in front of you. Seeing the line will help you step over it. You can also try imagining a line on the floor and stepping over it.
Small spaces, such as closets, can also cause freezing episodes. If areas in your home are problematic, put some tape on the floor to create permanent lines you can step over.
Neutral-colored floors and uncluttered spaces can also keep distractions that cause freezing to a minimum. Try moving bright rugs and other eye-catching objects out of your home’s main pathways.
3. Hop on a treadmill.
A 2015 review of 17 trials looking at how regular treadmill walking affected gait in PD patients concluded that treadmills do help people with Parkinson’s walk faster and take longer steps. Many people saw benefits after working up to 30 minutes of treadmill walking at their own pace four to five days a week.
Safety is paramount when using the treadmill. Use the handgrips when you need to and always clip the safety key (which should be found on the machine’s console) to your clothes. If you fall, it will bring the treadmill to automatic stop. Consumer Reports offers more important treadmill safety tips.
4. Sample the slacklining trend.
Slacklining, challenging your balance by walking along a bouncy 2-inch-wide flat nylon strap strung a foot or so above the ground, is popular on college campuses and parks where the young and hip gather. But scientists are also finding that slacklining is useful for people with PD.
In a 2016 study, people with PD who did two 30-minute slackline sessions a week for six weeks had significantly fewer freezing episodes and were less afraid of falling than those who did their normal routines—and they were less tired overall. The practice also helps improve balance, concentration, and core and lower body strength.
5. Get advice from a specialist.
Movement disorder experts, who are neurologists specializing in motor problems, can help you identify and treat your individual gait issues, which may change over time. They can teach strategies like the ones above, and many more, and refer you to physical therapists who can work with you to improve your gait.
BONUS TIP: If you really want to get into symptom-busting territory, join the Power Through Project. This social exercise tool was created exclusively for people with Parkinson’s and their supporters. It lets you track your workouts, find PD-friendly exercise classes and meet others in the community—all while learning how certain types of exercises improve symptoms. What have you got to lose?
By Emily Delzell