Learn about dystonia, also known as involuntary muscle contractions, and how the neurology team at Lehigh Valley Health Network can help you manage this often painful condition.

Dystonia is a disorder due to uncoordinated muscle contractions, which makes them move involuntarily or get stuck in an abnormal position. Dystonia can affect the entire body or only a certain part, and the muscle contractions may be painful and cause body movement dysfunctions.

Dystonia is related to a problem with the neurotransmitters in the basal ganglia, the part of the brain that processes the information that helps coordination of muscle contractions and maintaining tone. Dystonia doesn’t affect intelligence or cognitive thinking and isn’t generally related to mental health issues. 

The cause of dystonia is mostly unknown. A number of different genetic mutations have been linked to dystonia. Dystonia also can be caused by various reasons such as stroke or medication side effects.

Signs of dystonia

The first signs of dystonia can appear at any age. In children, it usually starts between the ages of 5 and 16 and frequently is generalized. Symptoms include:

  • Involuntary rapid blinking
  • A sudden tightening or turning of the neck to one side, particularly when fatigued or stressed
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Voice tremor

Symptoms can worsen with tiredness, stress or increased physical activity.

Types of dystonia

The types of dystonia are identified by which part of the body is affected.

  • Generalized dystonia affects areas all over the body.
  • Hemidystonia affects a leg and an arm on one side of the body.
  • Multifocal dystonia affects at least two different parts of the body.
  • Segmental dystonia affects at least two parts of the body that are next to each other.
  • Focal dystonia affects one particular area of the body. Some types include spasmodic torticollis (in the neck), blepharospasm (in the eyelids), Meige syndrome (in the lower face), or writer’s cramp or limb dystonia (in the hands).

Treatment may include oral medications, botulinum toxin injections, biofeedback, deep brain stimulation (movement disorders surgery), physical therapy and speech therapy.

Physical therapy

Our inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation specialists can develop a customized therapy plan just for you.

Learn more about physical therapy options.