Parkinson’s disease is a progressive condition whereby the signals communicated between the brain and nervous system are disrupted. This causes a number of impairments, many of which relate to movement. The symptoms are often subtle at first but become quite pronounced as the condition advances.
According to the NHS, the three main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease affect physical movement:
- Tremor – shaking, which usually begins in the hand or arm and is more likely to occur when the limb is relaxed and resting
- slowness of movement (bradykinesia) – physical movements are much slower than normal, which can make everyday tasks difficult and result in a distinctive slow, shuffling walk with very small steps
- Muscle stiffness (rigidity) – stiffness and tension in the muscles, which can make it difficult to move around and make facial expressions, and can result in painful muscle cramps (dystonia).
Many people describe a particular type of movement issue as feeling like their feet are “glued” to the ground.
According to Parkinson’s UK, this is known as “freezing”, whereby you are suddenly not able to move forward for several seconds or minutes.
As the charity explains, you may also feel like your lower half is stuck, but the top half of your body is still able to move.
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“You may experience this interruption to movement when you start to walk or while walking,” the health body says.
It adds: “However, freezing might also affect you during other activities such as speaking, or during a repetitive movement like writing.”
According to the European Parkinson’s Disease Association (EPDA), the exact cause of freezing is unclear, but it is thought to occur when there is an interruption to a familiar or automatic sequence of movements.
During walking, freezing is mainly observed when:
- You are walking towards doorways, chairs or around obstacles
- You are turning or changing direction, especially in a small space
- You are distracted by another task when you are walking.
- You are in places that are crowded, cluttered or have highly patterned flooring.
- The ‘flow’ of your walking is interrupted by an object, by someone talking, or if you begin to concentrate on something else. All of these will stop you from being able to keep a rhythm going.
- Your medication is ‘wearing off’ and no longer controlling symptoms as well.
- You’re in a group situation or in conversation.
How to respond to the warning signs
“See your GP if you’re concerned you may have symptoms of Parkinson’s disease,” says the NHS
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Your GP will ask about your symptoms and your medical history to help them decide whether it’s necessary to refer you to a specialist for further tests, the health body explains.
Am I at risk?
It’s not known why the loss of nerve cells associated with Parkinson’s disease occurs, although research is ongoing to identify potential causes.
Currently, it’s believed a combination of genetic changes and environmental factors may be responsible for the condition.
“It is estimated that only a very small number of people may have an increased risk of Parkinson’s linked to their genes,” explains Parkinson’s UK.
As the charity explains, there is some evidence that environmental factors (toxins) may cause dopamine-producing neurons to die, leading to the development of Parkinson’s.
Dopamine is the chemical that acts as a messenger between the parts of the brain and nervous system that help control and co-ordinate body movements.
“In particular, there has been a great deal of speculation about the link between the use of herbicides and pesticides and the development of Parkinson’s,” adds Parkinson’s UK.
Certain dietary decisions have also been linked to an increased risk of Parkinson’s.
Studies have suggested consuming dairy products could be linked to an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease.
A study, published in Neurology, has shown that total dairy intake was not associated with a significant risk of Parkinson’s.
However, daily consumption of low-fat or skim milk instead of full-fat milk was linked to a 39 percent higher chance of Parkinson’s disease.