Walking strategies for people with Parkinson’s Disease
The process of walking can be challenging and at times very frustrating for people with Parkinson’s disease. What was once an automatic movement suddenly becomes attention demanding, and can potentially be dangerous when combined with the poor balance that often presents as well. Regular exercise is recommended to improve walking function by targeting balance, lower leg strength and coordination. In addition to this, there are many strategies that you can employ, scientifically proven to help minimize the stiff and rigid movements. Cueing is a large stimulus that can help alleviate the mental barrier with walking. Some of these may not work for everyone, so experimenting with the techniques is important to figure out what are the right strategies for you.
Parkinson walking usually presents as slow movements with small steps, and may also cause freezing. Counting to a beat in your head while walking is a great strategy by creating a constant cue, which helps your legs step to each count rhythmically. The strategy has proven to be an effective strategy to increase walking speed and step length, while reducing episodes of freezing. When walking, try counting like a march drill – 1, 2, 1, 2, or by lots of 4. This is effective on short casual walks such as to the shops or around the park to help walk more smoothly.
If possible, listening to an external beat is also effective to help walking smoother. Following a metronome beat or listening to music that has a clear regular rhythm can also help your legs follow this pace and maintain the cadence.
Cueing doesn’t have to follow a beat. It can also simply be constantly reminding yourself on certain actions while walking. Actively swinging your arms to each step acts as a pace maker to each step. Deliberately taking bigger steps is another simple cue to follow and keep in mind which has shown to improve step distance. Doing turns while walking can disrupt the regular rhythm and cause hesitation or imbalance. Try taking a corner turn wider than usual – you may be surprised at how effective this is to making smooth turns and keeping your balance. A big cue is to walk with an emphasis on heel strike first, ensuring that your heel hits the floor first with every step to help ease the shuffling motion. Walking together with another person or on community walks is another great way to facilitate your own walking pattern, allowing you to match their pace and rhythm for yourself.
It is important to not let your Parkinson’s disease hinder your physical activity. Regularly training your body and going on walks can help slow the progression of the disease, and is always better than not moving at all. While these strategies may not work for everyone, trial and combine several of these to see which works best for you.