Intentional side to side movement that sometimes helps a person with Parkinson’s break free of akinetic (freezing) episodes during walking and other movements such as when changing from sitting to standing or getting out of bed. Freezing occurs in the middle to late stages of Parkinson’s as brain dopamine levels become significantly depleted and nerve signals to the muscles become increasingly erratic. The movement of side-to-side rocking stimulates different muscle fibers from those involved in forward movement, activating different nerve signals that can at least get the muscles moving. Once this happens, it seems to free the blockage of signals and movement resumes. Rocking also gives the person a different conscious focus, which helps to relieve anxiety about freezing.
Scientists believe there are connections between neuromuscular symptoms such as akinesia (freezing) and bradykinesia (slowed muscle response) and proprioception, the body’s system for maintaining its spatial orientation. Proprioception relies on intricate interplays among visual cues, balance signals, muscle actions and reactions, and brain patterning of movement sequences. Researchers believe that a combination of dopamine depletion and a function of Parkinson’s disease causes disruptions such as freezing and start hesitation. Rocking and other rhythmic movements alter the patterns and sequence of interplays, helping to restore more normal neurocommunication pathways.
In akinetic episodes that occur during walking, shifting the body’s weight from one leg to the other initiates the rocking movement. During sitting or getting out of bed, moving the knees from side to side accomplishes the same effect.