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What is Dystonia?

What is Dystonia?

Forms of Dystonia

The sustained muscle contractions of people with dystonia can cause twisting, repetitive movements and even unusual postures. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), muscles in the arms, legs, neck or the entire body can be affected. Classifying dystonia is related to the part of the body affected. NINDS lists five different classifications. They are:

  • generalized dystonia; affecting most or all of the body
  • focal dystonia; affecting a specific part of the body
  • multifocal dystonia; affecting two or more unrelated body parts
  • segmental dystonia; affecting two or more adjacent parts of the body
  • hemidystonia; affecting the arm and leg on the same side of the body

Some of the more common focal dystonias have their own names. They include:

  • Cervical dystonia, also called spasmodic torticollis, or torticollis, is the most common of the focal dystonias. In torticollis, the muscles in the neck that control the position of the head are affected, causing the head to twist and turn to one side, or backwards and forward.
  • Blepharospasm, the second most common focal dystonia, is the involuntary, forcible closure of the eyelids. The first symptoms may be uncontrollable blinking. Only one eye may be affected initially, but eventually both eyes are usually involved. The spasms may leave the eyelids completely closed causing functional blindness even though the eyes and vision are normal.
  • Cranial dystonia is a term used to describe dystonia that affects the muscles of the head, face and neck.
  • Oromandibular dystonia affects the muscles of the jaw, lips and tongue.
  • Writer’s cramp is a dystonia that affects the muscles of the hand and sometimes the forearm, and only occurs during handwriting. Similar focal dystonias have also been called typist’s cramp, pianist’s cramp, and musician’s cramp.

Useful Downloads

Demystifying Dystonia: Your complete guide to information about dystonia, diagnosis, current treatments, resource listings with contact info including telephone numbers and addresses, and much more. (Download: PDF)

Dystonia, New England Journal of Medicine: The following file may sound a bit complicated from a medical standpoint, but it clearly describes the most recent views about dystonia in today’s current medical literature.


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