Dystonia is a condition characterized by slow repetitive movements or abnormal posturing caused by involuntary muscle contractions.

Dystonia may affect a single muscle, a group of muscles, or muscles throughout the body. The cause of dystonia is unknown in most cases, although some forms are attributed to genetics. Symptoms may initially appear mild and progress with prolonged exertion, stress, or fatigue. Dystonia can also affect only one specific action, while allowing others to occur without disruption.


Symptoms of dystonia depend on the form and muscles affected, but may include:

  • Foot cramping or a tendency for one foot to turn inward or drag; this may be sporadic or after running/walking a certain distance
  • Involuntary turning or pulling of the neck, especially when the person is tired or stressed
  • Involuntary posture of limbs and/or trunk
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Impaired fine motor skills and hand use
  • Pain due to muscle contractions
  • Rapid and uncontrollable blinking and/or spasming of the eyes
  • Tremor

Types of dystonia:

  • Idiopathic dystonia—cause unknown
  • Genetic dystonia
  • Acquired dystonia—secondary to environment or other damage to the brain
  • Generalized dystonia—affects most or all of the body
  • Focal dystonia—localized to one specific body part
  • Multifocal dystonia—involves two or more unrelated body parts
  • Segmental dystonia—affects two or more adjacent body parts
  • Hemidystonia—involves the arm and leg on the same side of the body


Treatment avenues may include injection of botulinum toxin, several medications, deep brain stimulation, surgeries and physical therapy. For information about treatments options available at Kennedy Krieger Institute, please call the number below or click the request an appointment button. 

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