Muscle rigidity is one of the main and early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (PD), alongside tremor and Bradykinesia. Present in at least 90% of PD cases, muscle rigidity in Parkinson’s causes stiffness and inflexibility of the limb, neck, trunk or any part of the body. Due to muscle rigidity, the muscle tone of limb, neck or trunk is commonly stiff, contributing to a decreased range of motion. People with muscle rigidity face difficulty in swinging their arms while walking as their muscles are too stiff and tight.
The symptom may contribute to enhance other PD symptoms such as Bradykinesia, Sleep disorder and constipation. Many PD patients face trouble sleeping throughout the night as a symptom like rigidity makes them unconformable to fall asleep. While stiffness in muscles is not present in all PD cases, it can limit the sufferer’s range of motion and cause pain (either unilateral or bilateral).
Even though muscle stiffness in Parkinson’s cannot be eliminated completely, certain medication, surgery and alternative methods can help pause or reduce it in some patients. As different people can experience the symptom differently, one method cannot fit in everybody’s disease management plan.
Dopamine Agonists mimics the role of dopamine and is used in the early stages of the disease. However, many practitioners believe that Levodopa is more effective than Dopamine Agonists in controlling muscle rigidity. Excessive daytime sleepiness, hallucinations, confusion and swelling of the ankles are commonly reported side effects of this medication.
Surgery is mainly used to treat people whose PD-led muscle rigidity cannot be controlled by medication. As per an estimate, only 10% of PD patients are suitable candidates for this treatment approach. Though Pallidotomy, the surgeon destroys the Globus Pallidus and hence helps relieve symptoms of muscle rigidity along with tremors. If a person has the tremor in his right hand, then his left side of your brain will be treated or vice versa. The patient remains awake during Pallidotomy.
Regular exercise regimen can help to strengthen muscles and improve flexibility. Physical Therapy may help with muscle cramps while speech therapy may help to keep facial muscles flexible. Relaxation techniques to decrease muscle rigidity include gentle stretching exercises to prevent contractures. Other common exercises for easing muscle rigidity in PD include back extension, neck and trunk rotations.
Yoga, with both functional and psychosocial benefits, improves the sense of well-being among Parkinson’s patients. Starting with dynamic movement can initiate the loosening process for tight muscles. Many Yoga postures like Mountain Pose (Tadasana) and Warrior Pose (Virabhadrasana) reduce muscle stiffness and improve balance and flexibility. Asanas like Virabhadrasana (Warrior I Pose), Jathara Parivartanasana (Revolved Abdomen Pose) and Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose) can relieve body stiffness and combat fatigue.
Neurologic Music Therapy is also emerging as a method to help patients manage various PD symptoms, including muscle rigidity. The emotional experience of listening to favorite music can increase the release of Dopamine (DA), the brain chemical lacking in PD. This, consecutively, can help relax stiff muscles. Making and listening to music can be considered as strong stimuli to activate the Limbic System and neurochemical circuits.