Bradykinesia: Slow Movement in Parkinson's Disease

Senior man getting fed by carer in care home. Credit: Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

Bradykinesia refers to slowness of movement. It's one of the three characteristic symptoms of Parkinson's disease (tremor and rigidity are the other two). Bradykinesia occurs in everyone who has Parkinson's.

This slowness of movement is most obvious when the person with Parkinson's is starting or performing activities that require several successive steps. These can include all kinds of activities of daily life: getting dressed, making a sandwich or getting to a doctor’s appointment.

Tasks requiring fine motor control (buttoning a shirt or using utensils, for example) are particularly slow for someone with bradykinesia from Parkinson's disease, and reaction times are much slower, as well.

Bradykinesia also can cause someone with Parkinson's to shuffle more than walk, and to use slow, short steps. Finally, this problem may lead to soft speech that's difficult for others to understand.

Testing for Bradykinesia in Parkinson's Disease

When your doctor tests for the presence of bradykinesia, she will ask you to perform rapid, repetitive, alternating movements of the hand (such as moving your palms up and down, finger taps, and hand grips). People who have bradykinesia generally can't move quickly.

The slowness of movement can manifest in gestures, in speech, and even in how often or how quickly you can blink your eyes.

Sometimes, bradykinesia is subtle in a person with Parkinson's disease, especially in early stages of the condition.

To detect it, doctors look for hesitation before the person starts to move, and for reduced arm movements while walking.

What Does Bradykinesia Feel Like?

When you have bradykinesia due to Parkinson's disease, you may feel like your body isn't obeying your brain's commands, at least immediately (the way it used to do).

You may also feel as if your arms and legs are weak, because they won't do what you want them to do, or your limbs may ache as you try to perform tasks that involve repetitive motion, such as walking.

In some people with advanced Parkinson's disease, bradykinesia leads to a sensation of their feet being stuck to the floor, because they feel as if they're unable to get them moving. It may be possible to break this pattern through therapy that encourages you to perform such tasks as marching in place and stepping over imaginary lines.

You may also have trouble writing, and notice that your handwriting is getting smaller and slanting upwards to the right. This is a symptom called micrographia, and it's related to bradykinesia in Parkinson's disease.

Your emotional state may also affect your bradykinesia, but in a beneficial way. For example, even if you cannot move due to your Parkinson's, if someone shouts “fire!” you may be able to get up and run fast. This is called "kinesia paradoxica." Fortunately, Parkinson's disease does not destroy the programs in your brain that allow you to react this way in an emergency.

Help for Bradykinesia

Although Parkinson's disease can't be cured, medications and other therapies can help manage the symptoms, including bradykinesia. If you're having trouble accomplishing tasks in daily life because of your Parkinson's disease, talk to your doctor about treatments that might help stabilize or even improve your symptoms.


Frontera, Walter R., J. K. Silver, and Thomas D. Rizzo. Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation: Musculoskeletal Disorders, Pain, and Rehabilitation. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders/Elsevier, 2008. Print.

Parkinson's Disease Foundation. Primary Motor Symptoms fact sheet. Accessed Feb. 28, 2016.

Rao SS et al. Parkinson's Disease: Diagnosis and Treatment. American Family Physician. 2006 Dec 15;74(12):2046-2054.

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