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What is Dystonia?

Dystonia is a neurological disorder caused by abnormal activity in the part of the brain that regulates muscle control. This movement disorder causes an involuntary contraction of muscles resulting in uncontrollable, painful spasms in one or more parts of the body. The affected muscles tighten, twist, and force areas of the body into awkward movements and positions.

Dystonia is a chronic disorder that affects men, women, and children of all ages and backgrounds. It doesn’t impact cognition, intellect or shorten a person’s life span except in cases where it occurs as a symptom of a life threatening disease. Dystonia causes varying degrees of disability and pain, from mild to severe. There is presently no cure, but multiple treatment options exist and new therapies are being researched.  


Classifications of Dystonia

Primary – Dystonia is the major symptom and occurs as a single neurological illness, often of a genetic or unknown cause.

Secondary – Dystonia develops due to another illness or neurological event.  Trauma, medication exposure, toxins, stroke, spinal cord injury and cerebral palsy can trigger Dystonia.


Forms of Dystonia –

Generalized dystonia affects most or all of the body.

Focal dystonia affects a specific part of the body.


Some Common Focal Dystonias

Cervical dystonia (spasmodic torticollis) is the most common of the focal dystonias. It affects the muscles in the neck.

Blepharospasm affects the muscles of the eyelids and brow.

Oromandibular dystonia (cranial) affects the muscles of the face, jaw, and/or tongue.

Laryngeal dystonia (spasmodic dysphonia) affects the vocal chords.

Hand dystonia (writer’s cramp) affects the muscles of the fingers, hand and forearm. 


Treatments for Dystonia –

Oral medications

Botulism toxin injections

Surgical techniques include DBS (deep brain stimulation) and selective peripheral denervation.

Occupational therapy

Physical therapy

It is important to find a good neurologist that specializes in movement disorders.  



Many thanks to ST/Dystonia, DMRF and CARE4Dystonia for the information on this page. There are also many other wonderful Dystonia organizations who are ready to assist you with information and support.