BACKGROUND: The supplementary motor area (SMA) is implicated in both motor initiation and stereotypic multi-limb movements such as walking with arm swing. Gait in Parkinson's disease exhibits starting difficulties and reduced arm swing, consistent with reduced SMA activity.
OBJECTIVE: We tested whether enhanced arm swing could improve Parkinson gait initiation and assessed whether increased SMA activity during preparation might facilitate such improvement.
METHODS: Effects of instructed arm swing on cortical activity, muscle activity and kinematics were assessed by ambulant EEG, EMG, accelerometers and video in 17 Parkinson patients and 19 controls. At baseline, all participants repeatedly started walking after a simple auditory cue. Next, patients started walking at this cue, which now meant starting with enhanced arm swing. EEG changes over the putative SMA and leg motor cortex were assessed by event related spectral perturbation (ERSP) analysis of recordings at Fz and Cz.
RESULTS: Over the putative SMA location (Fz), natural PD gait initiation showed enhanced alpha/theta synchronization around the auditory cue, and reduced alpha/beta desynchronization during gait preparation and movement onset, compared to controls. Leg muscle activity in patients was reduced during preparation and movement onset, while the latter was delayed compared to controls. When starting with enhanced arm swing, these group differences virtually disappeared.
CONCLUSION: Instructed arm swing improves Parkinson gait initiation. ERSP normalization around the cue indicates that the attributed information may serve as a semi-internal cue, recruiting an internalized motor program to overcome initiation difficulties.