How You Can Overcome Parkinson’s Freezing Gait (Complete Guide)

If you’ve been living with Parkinson’s Disease for some time it’s likely you’ve experienced Freezing of Gait episodes.  

You see, 1 in 2 people living with PD are predicted to experience some form of Freezing of Gait. (Amboni, 2015

Not every client has asked us “What can I do stop Parkinson’s freezing gait?” 

But those people who do, for them, it’s a big concern. 

Freezing can be a massive life barrier and a major safety threat and we’d like to help you overcome this today.

In this complete guide you’ll learn:

  • Firstly, What are the Parkinson’s Freezing Gait Symptoms
  • What Is “Freezing Of Gait” or FoG In Parkinson’s Disease
  • Secondly, The Common Triggers or Causes of Freezing Of Gait
  • Thirdly, Why Does Freezing Happen In Parkinson’s Disease 
  • Oh No, I’m Freezing! What The Heck Should I Do Now? 
  • Identify Your Freezing of Gait Triggers  
  • Lastly, 13 Freezing of Gait Treatment Strategies To Help You Get Moving Again
  • Plus, 3 Aids To Help With Freezing of Gait
  • And What Therapists Can Help With Freezing of Gait

What Are Parkinson’s Freezing Gait Symptoms?

Some people describe their Parkinson’s Disease freezing symptoms as 

  • Like being stuck in mud
  • My feet are stuck to the floor
  • Someone has hit my pause button but I really want to go
  • I’m yelling at my legs to move and they won’t
  • It’s like my brain shuts down and yep – stuck
  • I’m in a fog
  • Fatigue, that’s my thing I feel so tired
  • I’m glued in!

What Is “Freezing Of Gait” (Common Features)

Whatever your experience of FoG is, there are some common features of this gait pattern. 

  • Firstly, FoG is defined as a “brief episodic absence or marked reduction of forward progression of the feet despite the intention to walk” (Giladi et al, 2000). 
  • Freezing of gait is a major disabling motor symptom that affects the daily quality of life of Parkinson’s disease (PD) patients. 
  • FoG appears commonly at advanced or later stages of the disease experience: Prevalence of FoG increases with longer disease duration.  It has been reported that 81% of PD patients experienced FOG after a disease duration of 20 years. 
  • BUT a mild form can be seen in the early stages.
  • Moreover, clinical features cited are: motor dysfunction, sleepiness, fatigue, and cognitive dysfunction
  • And this differs to what the patient reports such as postural instability and walking pattern (gait) difficulty.  

Source:( Sawada et al, 2019)

Parkinson’s Freezing Gait and Severe Injuries

People who are living with Parkinson’s and experience Freezing of Gait will often report near misses, crash landing in chairs or minor falls.

It’s vital to be attentive to these events as a “fall” can be a significant safety and life threatening issue. A fall can result in a serious injury. 

Please don’t dismiss the impact a fall can have. 

A fall can have catastrophic consequences on a person’s independence, health and lifespan.

“Freezing of gait is one of the most debilitating symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and is an important contributor to falls, leading to it being a major cause of hospitalization and nursing home admissions.”  (Sweeney et al, 2019)

“FOG in PD patients is the main cause of falling, fracture risk, and activities of daily living disability” (Okuma et al,  2018)

Common Triggers or Causes of Freezing Of Gait

  • Narrow spaces or tapering corridors
  • A disruption to your walking pattern 
  • Change direction: A change of direction can induce a freezing experience
  • Crowded places 
  • Crowded rooms
  • Responding to unexpected events like being rushed or startled: Trying to get to the toilet on time
  • Changes in walking surfaces ( textures, patterns or there is a visible object, like a shower hob or door threshold)
  • Transitions between environments – breaks or lines in the walking pathway be they inside or out. This may be experienced in shopping centres with the electric sliding doors or escalators. On and off public transport

You can appreciate that in the spacious clinic, with uniform floor surfaces it is often hard to detect freezing of gait.  

It happens in everyday life away from the clinic. 

That’s why we offer in tele-therapy, in home and community consultations.

It allows us to assess the impact of PD in your life and to design personalised plans with the goal to help you live a more independent life.

Why Does Freezing Happen In Parkinson’s Disease? 

It’s clear, anything to do with the brain is far from simple.

When it comes to the brain networks which controls your gait, yep you guessed it, it’s complex.

Your walking pattern relies on multiple connections and pathways between various parts of the brain. 

Freezing of gait can be viewed like a good detective novel. 

Movement is a dynamic activity. It adapts and responds to the world around us. As a result, there are a number of brain regions or “characters” implicated as being involved with Freezing of Gait in Parkinson’s Disease.

These brain areas are widely distributed and act in a synchronised and consistent manner.

You could say movement involves dynamic brain network coordination, and it’s this circuitry, this network behaviour, which appears to be affected and in the end gives rise to Parkinson’s freezing of gait (Lozano and Lipsman, 2013).

So, What Circuits Aren’t Working?

  • “Out of Sync” Limbic System and Cognition regulated by the basal ganglia as well as the supplementary motor area, cerebral cortex and more recently supraspinal locomotor network and being referred to a circuitopathy (Sawada et al, 2019., Pozzi et al, 2019)
  • Support to this “circuitopathy” is getting greater recognition by studies showing that FOG is correlated with limited dual-tasking ability and inability to “set-shift” attention among motor, limbic, and cognitive networks. 
  • In addition, freezing can occur during speech, handwriting, and other actions aside from gait, suggesting that the dysfunction occurs in generalized neural networks not solely related to ambulation. (Bluett et al, 2018)
  • The limbic system is the part of the brain involved in our behavioural and emotional responses, especially when it comes to behaviours we need for survival: feeding, reproduction and caring for our young, and fight or flight responses  (QLD Brain Institute

So, Let’s Simplify This Complex of Freezing of Gait Brain Scenario

  • So, it appears Freezing of Gait involves disordered communication and processing of information between networks involving the: 
  • front of the brain that plan and initiate movement
  • basal ganglia where the dopaminergic neurons that fine tune and exert control over movement
  • parts of the brainstem which again refine movement and support wakefulness

So, it’s a complex scenario involving a breakdown in brain circuitry and processing. Therefore, the response to this situation requires a multi-pronged and personalised response. 

Oh No, I’m Freezing! What The Heck Should I Do Now? 

There are a number of factors that can contribute to freezing of your gait. 

First up we need to map out what they are. 

1. Firstly, Identify What Are Your Triggers  

Here’s a list of common factors that may add up to freezing episode happening more often.

Medication Cycle Consistency

  • Your medication, for example, levodopa will go up and down depending on when you taken it, how well your body leverages it and the stage of your PD.
  • Taking your medication on a regular basis helps you understand your PD symptoms.
  • Let me explain, if you’re consistent with your medication, it’s one factor you can control for.
  • With your investigator hat on you can map out what else is happening other than the medication
  • Fine tuning your medication may be also indicated if it is not aligned to the way you’re wanting to live your life.
  • Being under medicated is a common culprit in a person’s experience of freezing of gait episodes. 
  • You’d appreciate a complex brain network problem is rarely solved by just medication alone.
  • Ramping up your dopaminergic medication like carbidopa/levodopa are only part of the equation, some people even report Freezing when ON. So it happens even when people are flush with their medication. 

Anxiety (Mental Health) and Freezing of Gait

  • Marten’s and associates showed in 2014 anxiety is an important mechanism underlying freezing of gait and suggests that increasing limbic “load” (i.e. anxiety) leads to increased freezing of gait and step-to-step variability.  (Remember  brain changes in the limbic system are associated with FoG. )

Sleep Quality  

  • Having a nourishing sleep needs to be up there as the same as a nutritious meal.
  • Fatigue is strongly associated with freezing of gait episodes.
  • Not only that, consistent sleep patterns support our cognitive skills of attention, memory, arousal as well as mood. 

Nutrition, Hydration and Gut Health

  • A diet which supports your tummy motility ( the ability to move food through your bowels) can help avoid some of the associated complications of PD such as constipation.
  • Being consistent with a Mediterranean diet may also be positive step.
  • The problem with nutrition research to date is that there is a lack of quality and depth.
  • The recommended approach is to work with a skilled Dietician or Nutritionist to help provide you with a personalized plan.

Increasing Stiffness

  • It’s fairly consistent for people living with PD that slowed movement, stiff muscles and a stopping posture are commonly reported. 
  • However, freezing is something outside the above “cardinal cluster” of symptoms and doesn’t affect everyone.
  • The common culprit to freezing is the medication cycle. Whilst freezing can occur whilst ON your medication it is more commonly reported on the OFF cycle. 
    • Off” periods are times when Parkinson’s disease (PD) medication, namely levodopa, is not working optimally. (Michael J Fox Foundation 

Inconsistency or Lack of Exercise Program 

  • Are you challenging your movement patterns and elevating your heart rate on a regular basis?
  • I’ll often speak about the imaginary fence line and giving up territory or PD.
    • The less we challenge this boundary which are your personal limits, the more likely you’re to give up movement independence.
  • That’s why it’s important to maintain an active exercise and movement routine on a regular basis. 

Secondly, Implement Freezing of Gait Treatment Strategy

Keeping in mind your triggers a personalised approach may include one or more of the following.

Here’s 13 Freezing of Gait Tips To Help You Get Moving Again

1.Keep your movements BIG – Scale Matters.

2. Develop the mindful skills to walk with purpose and with intent.

Using therapy programs to practice these skills there are emerging positive results using interventions like:

  • treadmill training
  • obstacle aquatic training – a form of hydrotherapy
  • slackline training
  • walk bicycle

The findings of a large meta-analysis suggest that it’s a combination of approaches which are needed as “in clinic” exercises have a short term carry over. Meaning more sustained activities as well as in home work is needed as well. (Cosentino et al, 2019)

3. Develop your “circuit breaker” toolkit.

Rather than trying to “bust through” the freezing, consider moving an alternative part of your body to “circuit break” the frozen movement. This may include: 

  • Move another limb finger, move your gaze. 
  • Take a deep breath in and shorter breath out.
  • Auditory or visual cues also can be used as well and covered later in this list

4. Pick a Destination

  • A point of focus, like  a boat charting a course through difficult waters, map a path to get to your intended destination . This may be about the home for example. You want to get form the loving to that bathroom but you need to go through the kitchen to get there. Pick a visual target that leap fogs you to the next visual destination.  

5. Verbal Cue and Prime yourself to GO! 

  • This can be a countdown methods 3-2-1 GO! Please note the GO! is a LOUD and POWERFUL internal command you give yourself. 

6. Leverage Assistive Technology

  • Tools like BEATS Medical have promise to help keep a movement rhythm. That said you can start with no cost items like, singing, get a song with a beat to cue you into the movement you want.
  • Laser-shoe: The laser-shoe is equipped with a line-generating laser activated through the loading of the body weight onto the switch upon heel contact during the gait cycle. (Gao et al, 2020). Side Note: We’ve not seen these but they sound great, don’t they?

7. STOP! Take The Pressure Off

  • When you get stuck, STOP, Pause, Reset GO. Too often we see people battling it out. The lack of movement “fine tuning” power means there’s a great fire hydrant pouring commands into your movement networks and nothing happens. Stopping is key the rest follows a natural order.

8. Establish a home or work environment which is “Freezing Resistant Sanctuary”

  • Attend to the home hazards which trigger your freezing of gait is one part of a holistic management plan (Nonnekes et al, 2015)

9. Plan Your Day 

  • So, in more advanced cases plan your day around the likelihood of your symptoms raising their head. You’ll likely know of the impact and timing of this. For example, it may mean a two walking aids of choice to cover your bases.

10. Place An Object In Front Of You

  • One strategy is to visualise an object to step over.
  • As counter intuitive as this sounds some people respond to the visual stimuli to promote the movement pattern.
  • There is an emphasis on stepping over which can shift your weight from your toes ( this can exacerbate the freezing) to the whole of the foot.
  • This is the principle of the laser lights. Either attached to a cane, on a walker or a small laser pointer that you hold in your hand. You have to step over the light or step to the light.
  • The challenge that we encounter with the aids is that they promote the stooped posture and reduce your scale of movement as most folk underestimate their capacity for bigger movement

11. Your Neurologist May Recommend Deep Brain Stimulation.

  • A paper presented by Kim and colleagues, 2019 suggest subthalamic nucleus deep brain stimulation (STN DBS) is effective against freezing of gait in Parkinson’s disease.
  • However, a limitation of their paper was their finding that DBS appeared to only affect a person’s experience of FoG in Off – medication state. 
  • No doubt a conversation with your neurologist is needed when discussing major treatment options. An assessment of the pros and cons for your personal situation will guide you to being informed about the right treatment course.
  • Gao and colleagues have compiled a comprehensive review of DBS in their article.

12. Cognitive “Brain” Training

  • Walton and colleagues in 2018 showed a novel cognitive training program  over 14 session which targeted brain skills of attention and speed of processing as having positive benefits to freezing of gait when ON as well as increased cognitive endurance.

13. PLUS: Mitigate the threats to achieving and sustaining a healthy lifestyle

3 Aids To Help With Freezing of Gait

There are many walkers on the market, basically a simple metal frame which may be supported by stoppers, slides or wheels. 

  • Walking stick with visual cueing aid/ technology
  • U Step walker: a wheeled walking aid with visual cueing technology 
  • Beats Medical: auditory “personalised” metronome like tool 

Therapist Who Can Help With Freezing of Gait

A physical therapist or commonly known as physiotherapist who’s skilled in working with people living with movement or gait disorders will be a great member of your team! 

As mentioned a lot triggers for Freezing of Gait episodes happen outside the clinic. 

Having an occupational therapist come to your home, community or workplace offers you a clinical perspective with a deeply pragmatic focus. 

The role of occupational therapy and Parkinson’s disease is to help people live better with their PD symptoms.

You can expect from an occupational therapist services which focus on

  • Home audit and design solutions
  • Assistive technology for Parkinson’s Disease
  • Lifestyle prescription
  • Tailored activity recommendations to support movement diversity and other goals
  • Cognitive strategies for Freezing of Gait
  • Caregiver education and training to assist people living with advanced PD who experience freezing of Gait. 

If there’s a key takeaway to close this article on Freezing of Gait and what to do about it’s this:

Freezing in Parkinson’s is a highly complex brain circuitry pathology which requires (often) a multi-pronged and personalised approach. 

If you’d like to explore strategies for your personal situation please do not hesitate to contact us at Occupational Therapy Brisbane today. 

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References and Sources: Overcoming Freezing In Parkinson’s ( Complete Guide)


The Occupational Therapy Blog is a news and health promotion initiative.  It by no means aims to be a source of medical or therapeutic advice. We enjoy sharing information and will attempt to curate it as best we can.  You’d appreciate we like to lighten our blog articles which often tackles very serious issues. It’s our way of sharing.   The information contained on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, or intervention.  Always seek the advice of your GP or qualified therapist with any questions you may have regarding your personal situation. Never substitute or delay seeking professional advice because of information you’ve read on this website.

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