Dystonia: A Painful & Debilitating Neurological Movement Disorder

Dystonia is a very complex neurological disorder, characterized by involuntary muscle movement, and is one of the most common movement disorders together with essential tremor and Parkinson’s disease.

Dystonia can affect young children to older adults and knows no racial or ethnic boundaries.

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What is Dystonia Caused by?

Dystonia results from abnormality or malfunctioning of the basal ganglia or other brain regions that control movement.

Individuals affected by this disorder may experience repetitive moments, uncontrollable twisting or blinking, or abnormal posture.

Although it can occur at any age, is often described as early or childhood onset. While early dystonia begins showing symptoms in the limbs, adult form is generally located in adjacent parts of the body, such as neck or facial muscles.

The exact cause of dystonia is yet unknown. It might be idiopathic, acquired or inherited. In the first case, there is no identifiable cause and no damage to the brain. In acquired forms, dystonia is caused by degeneration or damage to the brain or consumption of specific drugs.

What are the Symptoms of Dystonia?

hand affected by dystoniaRecognizing Dystonia's signs and symptoms can sometimes be difficult, and is sometimes misdiagnosed as stiff neck, stress or some psychological disorder.

Dystonia initially manifests when performing specific tasks, but may occur at rest at advanced stages.

Dystonia generally affects the same group of muscles, resulting in a repetitive pattern of movements in the long run.

The symptoms of Dystonia can be continuous or may simply come and go, and might be triggered by stress or certain activities.

Facial spasms, changes in speech cadence or difficulty chewing may indicate oromandibular dystonia, whereas cramping during writing or fatigue while manual activities may be symptoms of limb dystonia.

Although this condition is generally a lifelong problem, treatment can help relieve Dystonia symptoms.

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What is the Treatment for Dystonia?

hand affected by dystoniaThe course of dystonia treatment will very much depend on the type of dystonia you have.

The main treatments of Dystonia are injections, muscle relaxers and a type of surgery that stimulates the brain (though we are hesitant to recommend surgery and do our best to help our patients with non-surgical options).

Occupational therapy, speech therapy, stretching and massages can also help.

We take a holistic approach to treating dystonia. Our Ottawa clinic enables us to look at patient medical history, family history, mental and emotional health, environmental factors and much more.

Rather than focusing on the illness and its symptoms, we consider the whole person and the relationship with his or her environment.

Living Well with Dystonia

There is no single strategy, no "one right answer" that works for everyone who suffers from dystonia.

doctor tests patient for dystoniaHowever, below you will find some dystonia suggestions compiled from patients, support leaders and healthcare workers:

  • Seek expert advice and explore complementary therapies
  • Actively participate in your treatment
  • Stay socially active
  • Exercise as much as possible
  • Embrace awkward social situations
  • Engage in relaxation sessions
  • Listen to your body

Given that each dystonia case is unique, treatments need to be highly customized to suit the needs of each patient.

Is Dystonia life-threatening?

In most cases, this disorder does not shorten life expectancy nor is dystonia fatal.

Life-threatening circumstances, such as compromised breathing or heat functioning, are quite rare and usually treatable.

For more information on this movement disorder and our treatments, get in touch with Broadview. We are Ottawa’s leading rehabilitation centre for dystonia.