Muscle rigidity - what is actually causing this?

I'm wondering if any of you well-informed PWPs can explain what is causing muscles to become rigid. (One of my main symptoms). I asked my neurologist this, --he said, "good question..." then paused, and said "it has to do with the muscles tensing, and not being able to relax". I suppose this answer should satisfy me, but I feel like I want to understand more about this. Sometimes visualizing something can help. Can any of you offer a fuller explanation? And can anyone offer any alternative remedies? (Besides yoga, exercise, daily stretching, pilates...) Thanks!

37 Replies

  • What do YOU mean by muscle rigidity? Would an example be your neck muscles begun so rigid you can't move your neck.....either up or down or sideways?

  • yes - or, it's possible, but hard to move my neck because the muscles feel so tight... or, it's hard while standing, to touch my toes without feeling as if some muscle could tear! I used to be so agile/flexible, and now I move a bit like the tin man in the wizard of Oz. Sinemet is supposed to help, but I'm looking for any alternative ideas from this community.

  • You should change doctors. If he doesn't know that Parkinson's is a movement disorder caused by a deficiency of dopamine which feeds the substantia negra which is involved with sending messages to your muscles to move freely then he doesn't know much. If he's not interested in educating you then you need a different doctor.

  • Oh, he is actually a good doctor, and he knows that I understand the basic problem with dopamine deficiency, but I wanted to understand more about what the muscles were doing. I asked him to answer 26 questions (I made him work for his money!) and so he didn't have time to give me a satisfying explanation. Bill David's answer below explains it a little further.

  • Mine are like that! Get very stiff and painful

  • Have you tried Emergen-C?

  • I have heard of it - it's recommended for rigidity specifically?

  • I get that rigidity in my upper arms and the muscles in my chest socket on either side. Driving makes it worse. By the time I get where I'm going I'm in agony! Someone suggested Emergen-C to me for that but I haven't tried it yet.

  • Yes I heard of this is from pharmacists

  • Good Question......... not so good answer!!!!!

    I was with some PWP's yesterday, and one lady had a "good question" or statement. "The PD meds we're taking in South Africa are all 40 years old, with the exception one that I know of, why?"

    My question "Why are PWP's who shake, who have dyskinesia, who are rigid, all treated with the same meds?

  • That is an excellent question. Maybe because they know very little about PD. We are in the infancy of scientific research in this sres

  • Just could be because those symptoms - shaking and rigidity have the same cause - lack of dopamine. Dyskinesia is not treated with the same Med though because it is caused by the med. if you dont take levadopa you dont have dyskenesia.

  • The words rigid and rigidity are used to describe and identify a number of conditions affecting muscles. The following is an excerpt from notes made on the subject four years ago:

    "Increasingly, over the past year, raising my right arm against pressure has caused the movement to come in short, jerky segments. My neuro referred to them as "cogwheel ratcheting". She explained that, each time an "agonist" muscle contracts, opposing muscles "antagonists", must relax to let the desired movement occur. In pwp the messages sometimes become confused, causing an uneven, jerky reaction over which the pwp has little control. This is called ratcheting or cogwheel ratcheting. There's more, but its late and my eyelids are experiencing extreme RIGIDITY.

  • pMy experience. I am eleven years post diagnosis, currently 75, about five years in, I realized that I as a patient was not being told what was going on. Was up to myself to research what was happening.

    Came across a copy of The Parkinson Handbook, by Dwight McGroom MD, MAYO Surgeon with PD. He explains what is happening with posture and dystonia. Briefly hold your hand out. Move you fingers down, are pulled down by the the joints flexor muscles. Move fingers up, caused by extensor muscles.

    To maintain your posture they are in a dynamic balance. This is controlled by stratum setting on top of Black nucleus in brain. Lack of dopamine causes malfunction, weakening of extensor muscles. There is a consequence to reflexors which are relatively over strong. Resulting in contraction, knoting, etc, leading to the pain. Solution is stretching exercises for reflexors as well as strengthening exercises for extensors.

    Also recomemd TED talk on Intentional Medicine Google TED x Glasglow intentional medicine. Provides a protocol on using “Mind Body Entity” for healing. Powerful.

    Reacent research in neroplascity offers astounding possibilities. Normam Doidge MD’s book thr Brain’s Way of Healing is a must. Tied in to this is the area of Mindfulness Practices. Can be stunning. And finally the area of Wellness Practices, including participation in Support Groups.


  • Thank you so much for this very informative response Bill David- just what I was hoping for! I am 4 years in, and agree that one must do research oneself. My neurologists are both intelligent and lovely people, but they don't have time to answer all my questions. I am becoming slightly addicted to this Health Unlocked site where I find great ideas and answers like yours.

  • I have a glass of wine, sometimes two, everyday at happy hour, Besides relaxing my muscles, the wine also stimulates my appetite:), which is a good thing, because some days I do not feel like eating--but force myself to eat. P.S. I also do lots of cardio, yoga, stretching, etc. Good luck!

  • Carolinagirl, wine helps me as well. My tremor is calmed significantly by a glass of wine. Yoga and stretching is a must esp since I notice running creates some stiffness for everyone

  • Carolinagirl and p-oui, thanks for reminding me that one should drink wine!

  • and fyi, a bit of dark chocolate goes well with the wine too! My neurologist who is totally cool said drinking a cocktail or glass of wine is fine, just do not drink and drive.

  • Carolina girl, me too. I find drinking one glass of wine or beer calm my tremor as match or more then a pill. Does anyone reach for a glass rather than taking a pill when their symptoms act up? Don't you think wine is safer than pills?

  • ...except when you pop a mirapex on an empty stomach, followed by 2 big glasses of wine. Sheesh, I'll never do that again!! It caused me to get dizzy and faint - which was mortifying, as I was at a music concert with friends.

  • mirapex was the first drug I was prescribed and it made me dizzy and throw up all of the time, plus here in south carolina, my co-pay was 250.00! Which is way over my budget! Since July 2014 I have been taking sinemet 25/100 tabs, either three or four times daily depending on my symptoms, stress level, but if I have my wine I am lucky to keep it at three pills a day!

  • I take a klonopin and about an hour or two later a cup of red wine. The effect is amazing.

  • Definitely! Cheers! But in moderation :)

  • Yes, wine or anything that helps to relax is good. I do 20 minutes of yoga very first thing when I get up in the morning, focusing especially on any tight places. This helps a lot, but...

    It was my experience that going from unmedicated to getting a sufficient dose of carbidopa/levodopa made all the difference. Unmedicated, my brain was issuing incorrect signals to the muscles to tighten up, and no amount of exercise or other intervention was going to fix that without the right medication.

  • How long after dx were you unmedicated and what did you start with??

  • I was not unmedicated after dx very long at all. I got a prescription for Azilect right away, which on its own did nothing. I started C/L about a month later, which made all the difference. The other question would be how long did I have PD before dx. Don't really know except to say many years.

  • Actually , this question has a multi-faceted answer but in according to your medical condition you experiencing can gain to understand exactly what causes to you muscle rigidity . Here I post to you a link that can help to you this question about muscle rigidity or stiffness . In terms of pacifying and reducing the pain take anti-inflammatory drug with recommendation your doctor and rest .

    I hope to get good ramification outcome .

  • OF. At the risk of suggesting something that sounds like still more (tedious, oft-recommended) stretching... Have you tried to emphasize the twisting of your torso?

    It's all interconnected and maybe by swinging your torso front to back you can relieve undue pressure you're putting on your neck that may be making it stiff.

    I just say this cos that twisty part of the LSVT exercises feels so damn good.

    Ps. Two dozen questions? Brava!

  • You're right, Motal, twisting the torso does feel so good. I have started incorporating that regularly into my daily exercises just this past month!

  • A person with Parkinson's is first and foremost a person. It sounds like your doctor is treating the disease which you conveniently bring to his consulting room periodically.

    Good medical treatment is a team effort. Broken bones need radiologists, plaster technicians, hospital porters and the shopping bag manufacturers that make those non prescription plastic bags which everybody uses when you are fed up keeping bits of your body out of the shower!

    I don't know how often you see him and for how long but one thing is for sure is that he has not included on the team the person who sees you most - you.

    he might understand Parkinson's but he doesn't understand people or buiding effective teams. Time he was shaken up.

  • Very good TED talk, SOUP! I totally agree that we patients must have more control over our health, and that doctors should not act like Gods. I have left the wrong impression with you, though, that my doctor is not including me on "the team". I have two neurologists - the one I saw the other day is my special Parkinson's institute neurologist (out at UBC) who sees me once a year. The appointment is very useful, as a doc-in-training does a 40-min interview/chat with me and assesses my mobility, looks at my walking, etc. Then, in the last part (10 or 15 mins) my doctor comes in, and he makes suggestions based on what was revealed in the prior 40 minutes. I told him I had scads of questions, so he listened and looked at my 5 pages of notes, and was patient and kind, and answered as many as possible, but I had too many for the time, so he had to keep his explanations/answers short.

  • Hi oceanflower. I only know that it is the inability to relax our muscles. We tense all the muscles. I was once told by a neurologist that a large part of a specific area of the brain is used to keep the muscles relaxed. That means that if we lose the use of some of that area of the brain then the result would be that our muscles tense up, instaed of being held in a relaxed state by the brain.

    Have you consulted a relaxologist? If so, did it help?


  • Hi John,

    Sorry I missed your talk while you were here in Vancouver.

    Intuitively it seems correct - it is the inability to relax our muscles - but I'm wondering which "large part of a specific area of the brain you are referring to"?Is it not the substantia nigra where those dopamine cells are dying off?

    I was curious if you meant to consult a reFLEXologist? (or did you really mean relaxologist?).


  • Hi Oceanflower. I heard about the amount of brain cells involved in keeping the muscles relaxed on a radio program. It makes sense as you say. I could not even guess what part of the brain they referred to. If it were the substantia nigra t would make sense but I think that those cells are more involved with the organizing of the movements rather than control of the muscles.

    Let us just accept that this is a lack of brain function and maybe deal with your problem in the same way as I suggest with the conscious control of movement. We can consciously relax our muscles, which is why I asked if you had consulted anybody on relaxation?

  • I am just embarking on yoga/breathing exercises, plus I stopped working - I should be VERY relaxed soon...

  • Hi oceanflower. Sorting out the rigidity problem, if you are able, is not sorting out the Pd problem. view my website - and read over 400 articles on how to deal with Pd.

    The best thong you can do is take up Fast Walking. Read all about it on the website. Write to me from the website. I will answer all your questions. I do not charge for my services it is my way of helping others.

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