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Akinesia

What Is It, Causes, Symptoms, and More

Author:Lily Guo

Editors:Alyssa Haag,Józia McGowan, DO,Kelsey LaFayette, DNP, ARNP, FNP-C

Illustrator:Jessica Reynolds, MS

Copyeditor:Stacy M. Johnson, LMSW


What is akinesia?

Akinesia refers to the loss of spontaneous, voluntary muscle movement. The term akinesia is derived from the Greek word “akinesis,” with the prefix “a” meaning without, and “kinesis” meaning motion. It is most commonly associated with Parkinson disease (PD) but can be experienced as a symptom of other medical conditions, such as hypothyroidism and fetal akinesia deformation sequence. 

Man walking shakily.

What causes akinesia?

Akinesia can be caused by various medical conditions: most commonly Parkinson disease, which is a neurodegenerative disease characterized by a loss of striatal dopamine neurons. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in the initiation of movement. Its depletion, particularly in the later stages of Parkinson disease, can cause a subsequent loss of purposeful movement. Medications that inhibit the amount of dopamine released, including antipsychotics (e.g., ziprasidone, chlorpromazine, haloperidol) can similarly lead to medication-induced, Parkinson-like symptoms and akinesia. Severe hypothyroidism, which is caused by severely low levels of the thyroid hormone thyroxine (T4), can result in akinesia. Lastly, akinesia is a prominent symptom in fetal akinesia deformation sequence (FADS). FADS is a rare condition characterized by fetal akinesia, intrauterine growth restriction, multiple joint deformities, facial anomalies, underdevelopment of the lungs, and other developmental abnormalities. 

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What are the signs and symptoms of akinesia?

Common symptoms of akinesia include feeling frozen and stiff and being unable to move one’s muscles. Akinesia when experienced as a symptom of Parkinson disease may also be accompanied by a resting tremor, muscle and cogwheel rigidity, and postural instability. Those with Parkinson disease may also have gait freezing mid-movement, festinating gait and speech (defined as a tendency to speed up when performing repetitive movements or speech), and repetitive upper limb movements. Lastly, the individual may lack facial expression and have reduced blinking, producing what is referred to as a masked facies. 

An individual carrying a fetus with FADS may experience reduced fetal movement. Later in the pregnancy, the fundal height, or size of the uterus, may be larger than typical for the current gestational age. Akinesia, in combination with the various other abnormalities seen in FADS, may result in stillbirth in up to 30% of cases. Those who are liveborn may only survive a short time due to pulmonary hypoplasia, an incomplete development of the lungs. 

How is akinesia diagnosed?

Akinesia may be diagnosed by physical examination, specifically using a motor exam during which a neurologist or clinician monitors movement while an individual is asked to perform certain tasks, such as walking or tapping their fingers. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can be used to assess for brain abnormalities seen in Parkinson disease (e.g., atrophy of the midbrain with enlargement of the third ventricle as well as frontal and temporal lobe atrophy). Akinesia caused by hypothyroidism can be diagnosed by assessing the levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) through serology. Abnormally high levels of TSH with the presence of low T4 indicate hypothyroidism. Additionally, if the clinician is suspicious of FADS, genetic testing is available to test for the DOK7 and RAPSN gene mutations, and karyotyping can be conducted to rule out other developmental conditions. Diagnosis of FADS may also be made while the fetus is in the womb if the clinician observes reduced fetal movement, fixed limb posturing, or fetal edema (i.e., accumulation of fluid in the fetus) on ultrasonography. 

How is akinesia treated?

Treatment of akinesia depends on the underlying cause. If an individual has akinesia due to Parkinson disease, a healthcare professional may prescribe medications that increase the amount of the dopamine in the body (e.g., levodopa, pramipexole, selegiline). If the individual’s symptoms are refractory to medication, patients with Parkinson disease may try deep brain stimulation, which is a surgical approach that involves implanting a device to stimulate targeted regions of the brain with electrical impulses. Those who have medication-induced akinesia may stop taking the causative medication, which can eventually reverse the symptoms. Similarly, akinesia caused by severe hypothyroidism can be cured by administering thyroid replacement medications, such as levothyroxine. The treatment for fetal akinesia is primarily supportive due to a poor prognosis at live birth. Typically, resuscitation is required to combat pulmonary hypoplasia, and medications, like sildenafil and iloprost, may be administered to control raised pulmonary pressures.

Despite the cause of akinesia, there may be pain and discomfort experienced as a result of constant muscle rigidity. Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g., ibuprofen) or acetaminophen, can help. 

What are the most important facts to know about akinesia?

Akinesia refers to the inability to voluntarily move one’s muscles and limbs. It is most commonly associated with advanced Parkinson disease due to the degeneration of dopaminergic neurons. Other conditions where akinesia is present include hypothyroidism, medication-induced Parkinson-like symptoms, and fetal akinesia deformation sequence. The symptoms of akinesia usually involve feeling frozen and unable to move. Diagnosis is made on physical examination, and the clinician may perform a motor examination where they observe the individual’s gait. MRI may be used to confirm the atrophic changes of the midbrain, temporal, and frontal lobes seen in Parkinson disease. Laboratory testing, including blood tests and genetic testing, may also be performed to diagnose akinesia caused by hypothyroidism or FADS, respectively. The treatment for akinesia depends on the underlying cause. For akinesia related to Parkinson disease, the clinician may prescribe medications that increase dopamine levels in the brain. Additionally, pain relievers can help alleviate the discomfort associated with muscle rigidity. 

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Related links

Parkinson disease
Movement disorders: Pathology review
Hypokinetic movement disorders: Clinical practice

Resources for research and reference

Dopamine antagonists. In DrugBank Online. Retrieved February 28, 2022, from https://go.drugbank.com/categories/DBCAT000603 

Fetal akinesia deformation sequence. In Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center. Retrieved February 28, 2022, from https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/9634/fetal-akinesia-deformation-sequence

Kompoliti, K., & Verhagen, L. (2010). Encyclopedia of Movement Disorders (1st ed.). Elsevier. 

Ramakrishnan, S., & De Jesus, O. (2022). Akinesia. In StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK562177/

Surgical treatments for Parkinson's disease. In Parkinson's News Today. Retrieved February 28, 2022, from https://parkinsonsnewstoday.com/parkinsons-disease-treatments/surgical-treatments/