Decreasing rigidity can decrease the risk of falls
Rigidity is a common symptom of Parkinson’s Disease (PD). It can be an increase in stiffness or tightness in someone’s muscles and can be experienced in the neck and trunk (known as axial rigidity) as well as the upper and lower extremity muscles.
Axial rigidity is often a symptom experienced in people with PD that occurs on one or both sides of the body. It can be difficult to measure and observe objectively. A 2017 study looked at rigidity in the back muscles (extensor muscles) and found a correlation between an increase in axial rigidity and frequency of falls (1).
Other studies have found that a large contributor to falls in people with PD is postural instability, which is difficulty in correcting balance when someone is thrown off balance. Increased axial rigidity can play a role in this instability (2).
In addition to axial rigidity, rigidity in the legs has also been found to be correlated in higher frequency of falls. Increased stiffness in the legs can make it more difficult to correct balance to prevent a fall and result in decreased stability in standing and walking.
With a clearer understanding of the relationship between rigidity in PD and fall risk, the next question to ask is … what can we do about it?
Exercise! Get up and moving!
Stretching can be useful in reducing and preventing the progression of rigidity in the trunk and lower extremities. Check out this video on stretches to reduce rigidity:
Physical therapy and occupational therapy can be also be helpful to help you improve balance and safety skills to keep you safe and on your feet!
At Engage, we have a slip trainer where we work on your ability to take a step quickly to catch your balance. Think about how your body and legs need to respond to walking on ice. You may have to take a quick step to catch your balance or you may have to shift your weight quickly to keep standing tall. This tool allows us to practice catching your balance in different directions and being able to catch your balance quickly.
Call Engage at 315-810-2423 to see how PT and OT can help you live your best life!
Cano-de-la-Cuerda R, Vela-Desojo L, Miangolarra-Page JC, Macías-Macías Y. Axial rigidity is related to the risk of falls in patients with Parkinson's disease. NeuroRehabilitation. 2017;40(4):569-577. doi:10.3233/NRE-171444
McKay JL, Hackney ME, Factor SA, Ting LH. Lower Limb Rigidity Is Associated with Frequent Falls in Parkinson's Disease. Mov Disord Clin Pract. 2019;6(6):446-451. Published 2019 Jun 6. doi:10.1002/mdc3.12784