Dystonia is a neurological movement disorder, causing uncontrollable muscle spasms. More than 300,000 people in the U.S and Canada alone have been diagnosed with dystonia. The movements seem like a tremor. It’s usually repetitive, unusual, and can result in painful postures. It affects men, women, and children alike of all backgrounds and ages.
Though dystonia can be severe, it doesn’t affect cognition or life span.1
Symptoms Of Dystonia
Dystonia can be mild to severe, in terms of disability and pain. Here are its most common symptoms.
- Muscle spasms that result in your head being pulled in a certain direction
- Abnormal and painful postures
- Rapid blinking
- Difficulty in chewing and swallowing
Some of these symptoms can worsen with stress and fatigue. If dystonia appears during childhood, the signs could start in the arms, legs, and gradually spreads to other parts. But in late-onset dystonia, as in the case of adults, it starts in the neck, face or arm and doesn’t typically
Causes Of Dystonia
The exact cause of dystonia is not known since it’s difficult to trace the true bio-mechanism that triggers the symptoms. Some scientists claim it could arise when nerve cells in the basal ganglia can’t communicate. The basal ganglia is responsible for muscle contractions.
Dystonia could be a result from a serious head or brain trauma, a tumor, stroke, lead poisoning, a drug side-effect, oxygen deprivation, or mutated genes. In some cases, it could be a symptom of Parkinson’s or Huntington’s disease.
Types Of Dystonia
There are different types of dystonia based on how many body parts are affected.
- Generalized dystonia: It begins in one part of the body and gradually spreads to other areas.
- Focal dystonia: Specific to one region of the body.
- Multifocal dystonia: Seen in a few unrelated body parts.
It is also classified based on the body part that’s affected.
- Cervical dystonia: Only the neck muscles are affected. This causes your neck to involuntarily move forward or sideways. This is the most common type of dystonia.
- Blepharospasm: This affects the muscles around the eyes. It causes uncontrollable blinking and in some severe cases, people wouldn’t be able to open their eyes for several minutes.
- Cranial dystonia: It’s a combination of blepharospasm and oromandibular dystonia, that targets the eyes, neck, face, and head.
- Spasmodic dystonia: It targets vocal muscles, resulting in a very low whispering voice.
- Oromandibular dystonia: Mouth, tongue, and the jaw are affected.
Writer’s dystonia and musician’s dystonia are types of dystonia can be triggered by repetitive movements.
Treatment Of Dystonia
There is no cure for dystonia yet. But there are certain things that could be done to reduce its symptoms and improve the quality of life. The most common ways to treat dystonia include a combination of
Alternative Ways Of Finding Relief From Dystonia
Physiotherapy: This can be extremely beneficial to correct postures and involuntary neck movements through certain exercises. One study revealed 74% of people with neck dystonia and 64% of people with hand dystonia found this very helpful.2
Speech And Language Therapy: This is primarily for dystonia types that affect speech. In this, a speech and language therapist uses a mix of breathing exercises to make best use of the person’s voice.3
Sensory Trick: In this, a stimulus is introduced to the affected area to reduce muscle spasms. A few people with cervical dystonia found relief by raising an arm and placing a finger near the responsible muscles.
Also, if you have dystonia, try to keep stress and anxiety levels in control. Do talk to your friends and family and confide in them. Social support is vital during this time.