Muscle rigidity in Parkinson’s disease (PD):
One of the more common motor symptoms in PD that impact movement is muscle rigidity. Muscle rigidity can be thought of as muscle stiffness or resistance to stretch. It often presents on one side of the body first (an arm or leg), but can progress to both the arm and leg on one side of the body, then the trunk or even on both sides of the body. It more frequently occurs in the muscles that flex joints, contributing to the flexed, stooped posture associated with PD.
Muscle rigidity is believed to occur because of an imbalance in the brain’s communication with the muscles around a joint. If the muscles on one side of a joint are contracting, there is normally a relaxation of the muscles on the opposite side of the joint to allow that motion to occur in a smooth manner. For example, if you reach to bring your toothbrush to your mouth, your triceps should relax, allowing that motion to occur in a smooth fashion. With rigidity, this seemingly simple activity can become more difficult. Muscle rigidity can be worse at the end of your PD medication’s dose or can be worse after prolonged sitting or rest, making it more difficult to get out of bed or out of a chair.
Muscle rigidity can be managed by making sure your medication is timed properly (please consult with your physician), but you can also manage rigidity by performing a regular exercise routine. Yoga and tai chi are both excellent forms of exercise for managing PD symptoms. Purposefully “moving big” can increase the range of motion of your joints while moving, Walking with trekking poles improves the amount of arm swing you use with each step. Whatever modality of exercise you select, make sure it is something you enjoy so that you stay motivated to perform the exercise.
Massage therapy has also been found helpful in managing muscle rigidity and stiffness. It also can aid in stress reduction, pain control, and quality of sleep. Open communication with your massage therapist is important to find the massage technique that is best for you. If you have had Deep Brain Stimulation surgery, it is important that you speak with your surgical team before initiating massage, as it is important that your massage therapist not perform techniques over your battery pack or lead wires.
Muscle rigidity is a manageable symptom with PD, and early intervention can lessen the progression of postural changes, gait changes, and slowing of movement associated with it. It is always an excellent idea to consult with a licensed physical therapist familiar with PD to establish an exercise routine specific to your needs and difficulties.
13 Nov, 2014