Dystonia is a brain disorder that causes twisting and involuntary movement of muscles in the body. It is sometimes painful and can start in early childhood. The condition can range from mild to severe and can worsen over time.

What is Dystonia?

Dystonia is a neurological disorder that causes involuntary contractions or spasms in individual muscles or groups of muscles. It is believed to result from a problem in the basal ganglia, the part of the brain that plays a part in movement coordination, although the cause is not known. Symptoms may include problems with writing, dragging of the foot, trouble moving the neck, foot cramps, muscle spasms, or problems with speaking.

There are different types of dystonia:


  • Generalized dystonia - affects most of or all of the body
  • Focal dystonia - affects a specific body part
  • Multifocal dystonia - affects unrelated body parts
  • Segmental dystonia - affects related body parts
  • Hemidystonia - affects the arm and leg on the same side of the body


Diagnosing Dystonia

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and conduct a physical examination, as well as talk to you about your family’s medical history. A definitive diagnosis may involve certain testing, such as bloodwork, genetic testing, or laboratory work such as analysis of cerebrospinal fluid. In some cases, imaging tests such as electromyography (EMG) or electroencephalography (EEG) may be needed.

Treatment for Dystonia

Botulinum toxin (Botox) injections may be helpful in reducing symptoms. Some medications such as diazepam, lorazepam, and levodopa can be effective in treating some forms of dystonia, as well as speech or physical therapy. In more serious cases, deep brain stimulation may be necessary.

The providers at the Clinical Neuroscience Institute’s Movement Disorders Center are dedicated to finding the treatment option that fits your individual needs so you can enjoy the day-to-day activities that matter to you.