Freezing is when you suddenly lose the ability to move for a few seconds or minutes. It’s more common in the middle to late stages of Parkinson’s. Certain techniques may help you overcome freezing, and some medications may prevent it.

Freezing is a common symptom of Parkinson’s disease in its middle to late stages. It’s when you suddenly and temporarily lose the ability to move.

While freezing can happen during a range of movements, you may most likely experience it while walking, increasing your risk of falling.

Keep reading to find out why freezing occurs and how you can overcome it.

Freezing is when you try to move but can’t. Your body feels stuck in place for a few seconds or minutes.

Freezing can happen during many movements, such as when you stand up, turn around, or start to speak. It’s very common during walking, something healthcare professionals call “freezing of gait.”

A 2021 research review involving 66 studies reported that 51% of 9,072 participants with Parkinson’s experienced freezing of gait. It affected about 38% of people with early stage Parkinson’s, compared with 65% of people with advanced stage Parkinson’s.

The results of a small 2018 study suggested that freezing of gait could be the leading cause of falls in people with Parkinson’s.

It’s not clear why Parkinson’s causes freezing in some people.

The authors of a 2020 review explained that planning, initiating, and executing voluntary movement is a complex function that involves many brain regions and pathways. Parkinson’s can make it harder for neurons in these networks to communicate effectively, which may lead to freezing.

Along the same lines, freezing may link indirectly to cognitive impairment. The authors of a 2017 study including 186 people with Parkinson’s reported that those who experienced freezing of gait were more likely to have lower scores on measures of various brain functions.

Nearly any movement can trigger a freezing episode. But specific triggers might vary from person to person.

Some triggers for freezing that people with Parkinson’s often report include:

  • New movements: You might hesitate or freeze when starting to move, such as when standing up, getting out of bed, or taking a first step forward.
  • Transitions between spaces: You might have difficulties moving from one physical space to the next, like stepping through a doorway, walking around an obstacle, or getting onto the sidewalk after crossing the street.
  • Repetitive movements: Movements such as writing, chewing, or tapping your foot could cause you to freeze.

Other factors that can contribute to freezing include:

  • feeling stressed or hurried
  • being in tight spaces or crowded environments
  • multitasking

If you experience freezing, consider consulting a healthcare professional. They can suggest techniques and treatments to prevent freezing and lower your risk of an injury if freezing occurs.

Some techniques that can help with freezing include:

  • Learn more about your triggers: This allows you to prepare for situations in which you might freeze. Consider avoiding certain triggers, such as busy places, if they present additional danger.
  • Remain calm: Take a deep breath before shifting your focus to moving.
  • Try a different movement: Sometimes, a new movement — such as clapping your hands, marching in place, or swaying from side to side — can break a freezing spell.
  • Use auditory cues: Many people with Parkinson’s find that following a rhythm helps them get started. Try counting rhythmically, wearing a metronome, or singing in your head and then moving along with the beat.
  • Use visual cues: Visual cues can also reduce moments of freezing. Some people tape lines on the floor of their home in triggering areas or use a laser pointer to project a dot they can step over.
  • Use visualization: Closing your eyes and visualizing yourself moving the way you desire may help you get started.
  • Talk yourself through the movement: Some people with Parkinson’s find that describing what to do, whether out loud or in their mind, allows them to continue moving.

Some people may be more likely to freeze when their Parkinson’s medication wears off. If that’s the case, your doctor might suggest adjusting your medications.

Other treatments for freezing due to Parkinson’s include:

  • Occupational therapy: Occupational therapy involves adapting your everyday environment and developing techniques to make freezing more manageable.
  • Physical therapy: A physical therapist can recommend an exercise program to help you improve your muscle strength, balance, and posture, preventing falls.
  • Deep brain stimulation: This relatively new surgical treatment for Parkinson’s involves implanting a device. Although it can help with symptoms like freezing, it’s not for everyone with the disease.
  • Walking aids: When other techniques don’t help with freezing, a walker can help you stay safe.

Keep reading for answers to a few of the most common questions about freezing in Parkinson’s.

What stage of Parkinson’s is freezing?

Freezing can happen at any stage of Parkinson’s. However, it’s more common in people with advanced Parkinson’s.

Does Parkinson’s freezing affect speech?

Freezing can occur when you’re speaking. You might be unable to move your jaw, tongue, or mouth. Other people with Parkinson’s may experience mental freezing, which is when they lose their train of thought.

Why do people with Parkinson’s freeze in doorways?

Doorways are narrow spaces that require altering a movement already in progress. The authors of a 2019 brain mapping study suggested that the appearance of a doorway triggers a need to stop and adjust your movement. This can overwhelm an area of your brain responsible for movement, leading to freezing.

Can a Parkinson’s freezing episode happen while driving?

Yes, it’s possible to freeze while driving. A small 2022 study showed that people with Parkinson’s who experience freezing of gait might be more likely to stop driving voluntarily.

Freezing is a common symptom of Parkinson’s disease. Although it’s more common as Parkinson’s progresses, it can happen at any stage.

Many people with Parkinson’s freeze when they walk. Your feet might feel stuck in place, preventing you from moving forward.

An occupational or physical therapist can provide tips and techniques to try during a freezing episode. Other treatments to prevent freezing include medication adjustments and deep brain stimulation.