What is Rigidity in Parkinson’s Disease?

Rigidity, also inflexibility and stiffness of the trunk, limbs or neck is one of the primary symptoms of Parkinson disease. However, not all patients suffering from Parkinson experience rigidity. Rigidity can be really painful and uncomfortable. It affects the motion of the person suffering the disease. Usually, muscles relax when they are at rest and stretch when they are moving. Rigidity makes the muscles stiff and doesn’t allow to rest. Besides, rigidity also causes a person with Parkinson to not swing their arm when walking. It also causes:

  • Trouble buttoning clothes or writing
  • Difficulty in getting out of the chair
  • Difficulty in turning over in the bed
  • A fixed facial expression, also called as ‘MASK’
  • Muscle cramps and pain
  • Inflexible and stiff muscles.

What Causes Rigidity in Parkinson’s Disease?

The exact cause of rigidity in people suffering from Parkinson is not precisely known. It is believed that the reduction in dopamine (chemical messenger), also called as a neurotransmitter relays the message to some areas of the brain for producing smooth and purposeful movement. These some areas of the brain are put together in a circuit called basal ganglia. When Parkinson damages these dopamine producing neurons, the communication between them is disrupted and rigidity is caused.

Impact of Rigidity on Daily Life

The rigidity in Parkinson’s disease impacts every area of your life. Even in a normal day, rigidity can affect the mobility and it makes difficult to walk. It also affects the body’s posture which makes it difficult to navigate. Apart from this, eating, getting out of chair and turning on the bed can also be problematic. Rigidity also interferes with normal communication and the appearance of written words.

Treatment

There is no known cure for Parkinson. There are no treatments to slow or stop the process of parkinson’s disease but there are ways to manage rigidity in Parkinson. Treatments are tailored according to the patient’s requirement. The treatment may include surgery (deep brain stimulation) and complementary medications.

Most of the people suffering from parkinson’s disease are given medications for helping them manage their rigidity symptoms. The initial therapy is levodopa which is administered with carbidopa, monoamine oxidase-B inhibitors and dopamine agonists. The combination of carbidopa and levodopa is an effective treatment which is available for managing rigidity. Although, this can lead to side effect called dyskinesia. This side effect is an abnormal involuntary movement. Dopamine agonists are less effective on rigidity during Parkinson but do not have much possibility of causing dyskinesia. Monoamine oxidase-B inhibitors are the least effective as well as have fewer side effects. The choice of therapy depends on the risks and benefits it will give on each patient.

Along with medication, some physical therapy is also done to help with muscle cramps. Also, regular exercise and stretching helps in strengthening muscles and maintain flexibility. Moving throughout the day can also help in reducing rigidity. Exercises like weight lifting, tai chi and yoga also help in lessening the rigidity in parkinson’s disease.

Adapting

Along with medications, there are numerous lifestyle adjustments which help in coping up with physical limitations of the parkinson’s disease. You can consider any mobility aid available.

Key facts:

  • Some parkinson’s disease patients refer rigidity as ‘tightness in the limbs’.
  • There is possibility that rigidity can be present in the trunk.
  • Rigidity is there in about 95-99% of the Parkinson disease cases.
  • Muscular rigidity can be bilateral or unilateral.
  • There is a particular type of rigidity known as cogwheel phenomenon. It is a tremor superimposed on rigidity.

Diagnosing

Your physician will test you for rigidity by extending and flexing your elbow joint and relaxed wrist. The doctor will look for sustained rigidity while performing the tests and determine if you have tremor.

How Can I Help Myself?

Stay active even if you have symptoms of rigidity. It will help you in maintaining independence, mobility and flexibility. Regularly exercising also helps in strengthening muscles and alleviates the pain and aches.

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