What is dystonia?

Dystonia is a movement disorder characterized by persistent or intermittent muscle contractions causing abnormal and often repetitive movements, postures or both. The movements are usually patterned and twisting, and may resemble a tremor. Dystonia is often initiated or worsened by voluntary movements, and symptoms may “overflow” into adjacent muscles.

There are multiple forms of dystonia, and dozens of diseases and conditions may include dystonia as a symptom. Dystonia may affect a single body area or be generalized throughout multiple muscle groups. Dystonia affects men, women and children of all ages and backgrounds. Estimates suggest that no fewer than 300,000 people are affected in the United States and Canada alone. Dystonia causes varying degrees of disability and pain, from mild to severe. There is not yet a cure, but multiple treatment options exist and scientists around the world are actively pursuing research toward new therapies.

Although there are several forms of dystonia and the symptoms may outwardly appear quite different, the element that all forms share is the repetitive, patterned and often twisting involuntary muscle contractions. Dystonia is a chronic disorder, but the vast majority of dystonias do not have an impact on cognition or intelligence, nor shorten a person's life span.

Dystonia is a disorder in which people experience uncontrollable muscle spasms that force the body into uncomfortable positions. Symptoms can range in severity, making daily activities a challenge. There are two forms of dystonia, generalized and focal. Generalized dystonia impacts the whole body while focal dystonia impacts a specific part of the body, such as the neck or arm.

Dystonia is a very general term that encompasses any involuntary movements or twisting. Typically, muscle relaxants may be prescribed to treat dystonia that does not have other complications or underlying causes. Dystonia by itself is not a definite indicator of Parkinson's. A person with Parkinson's may exhibit dystonia as a symptom. However, having dystonia does not necessarily mean you have Parkinson’s. You should talk with your doctor about your concerns and have him run additional tests if you are concerned about Parkinson’s.

Dr. Charles J. Sophy, MD
Adolescent Medicine Specialist

Dystonias are movement disorders in which sustained muscle contractions cause twisting and repetitive movements or abnormal postures. The movements, which are involuntary and sometimes painful, may affect a single muscle; a group of muscles such as those in the arms, legs or neck; or the entire body. Those with dystonia usually have normal intelligence and no associated psychiatric disorders.

Dystonia is involuntary muscle contractions that cause abnormal muscle postures. Opposing muscles contract and spasm at the same time, causing loss of voluntary control and twisting motions. There are several different types of dystonia. Dystonia can affect one muscle, groups of muscles or muscles throughout the entire body. Dystonia often progresses as people age.

Dystonia is a problem with muscles. People with dystonia lose control of how and when their muscles and body move. This causes a spasm. The spasms can be very painful, and can make doing everyday things difficult.

Continue Learning about Dystonia

How are temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disease and dystonia related?
Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF)Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF)
Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disease is an arthritic condition, not a dystonia. Oromandibular dysto...
More Answers
How is dystonia associated with other diseases and conditions?
Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF)Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF)
Dystonia can be associated with numerous diseases and conditions. These include specific vascular co...
More Answers
What does it mean for a person with dystonia to be a Patient-Active?
Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF)Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF)
A person who sees him or herself as a "Patient-Active" is someone who considers himself part of the ...
More Answers
Does dystonia get progressively worse over time?
Honor Society of Nursing (STTI)Honor Society of Nursing (STTI)
Within five years after symptoms begin, dystonia stabilizes for most people. Symptoms do not get wor...
More Answers

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.