What is Dystonia?

Dystonia is common a neurological movement disorder in which a person experiences uncontrollable muscle spasms that can occasionally be quite painful. Caused by incorrect brain signals, these spasms pull on muscles in such a way that the body starts to move in twisting repetitive movements or causes it to assume abnormal postures. The condition may affect a single area of the body, or it could cause issues in several places at once. In some cases, dystonia can impact the entire body.

It is not yet fully understood why the brain sends the incorrect signals that are associated with the disorder. Research has suggested that those with dystonia show an issue within the basal ganglia region of the brain. There is no definite explanation as to why this problem is present. However, in a few instances, there are in fact clear causes. These include the use of certain drugs such as dopamine inhibitors, other medical conditions (usually cerebral palsy, tumor, or stroke), and genetics.

What are the Symptoms of Dystonia?

Symptoms vary from case to case. The condition can sometimes be severe, while other times it is relatively mild.

Symptoms include

  • Involuntary muscle contractions
  • Repetitive movements
  • Abnormal posture
  • Muscle cramps
  • Twitching eyelids
  • Twisting movements
  • Spasms in the voice box
  • Torticollis (spasms in neck muscles)

How is Dystonia Treated?

There is currently no cure for dystonia. However, there are several medications and therapies available to help manage the disorder. Muscle relaxants help reduce muscle tension, while sedatives, anti-tremor drugs, and neurotoxins minimize spasms and promote calmer muscles. Dopamine promoters stimulate the brain receptors for dopamine.

Physical therapy can aid in strengthening muscles and restoring function through various exercises. Patients may also benefit from a therapy called sensory trick, in which applied touch or a certain maneuver or position helps to reduce symptoms.

Last Reviewed:
September 20, 2016
Last Updated:
September 06, 2017