Dystonia

Henry Ford’s Movement Disorder Center provides evaluation and treatment of dystonia, a condition that causes involuntary muscle contractions. Our specialized movement disorder team tailors treatment to your unique symptoms and offers comprehensive care with medications, therapy and assistive devices. Our goal is to help minimize your pain and return to your daily activities.

Dystonia is the fourth most common movement disorder after restless leg syndrome, essential tremor and Parkinson's disease. It affects more than 300,000 people in North America.

What is dystonia?

Dystonia is a neurological movement disorder characterized by muscle contractions that lead to abnormal and sometimes painful movements or postures. Dystonia can affect any part of the body including the arms and legs, neck, eyelids, face or vocal cords.

Muscle contractions can interfere with normal function and may be painful and socially embarrassing. Sometimes other aspects of your health may be affected, such as muscle strength, vision or hearing. Dystonia is a chronic (persistent) disorder that affects everyone differently. It is not fatal.

The different types of dystonia

There are many types of dystonia, and many diseases and conditions may include dystonia as a symptom. Forms of the disorder include:

  • Focal dystonia: Symptoms that only affect one part of the body, such as the eyes, face, vocal chords, neck, hand or arm.
  • General dystonia: Affects multiple parts of the body, frequently including the back and torso.
  • Task specific dystonia: Often due to repetitive motion, these dystonias include writer’s cramp and musician’s cramp.
  • Secondary dystonia: Symptoms that are due to another condition, such as stroke or cerebral palsy.

Expert dystonia diagnosis at Henry Ford Hospital

There is no single test to confirm the diagnosis of dystonia. Neurologists at Henry Ford recognize the physical signs and symptoms of the condition, but we will recommend tests to rule other underlying conditions or disorders. An accurate diagnosis of dystonia may include:

  • A review of your medical history
  • Blood and urine tests
  • Electrical recording techniques, such as electromyography (EMG) or electroencephalography (EEG)
  • Genetic testing for specific forms of dystonia
  • Tests and screenings intended to rule out other conditions or disorders

Botulinum toxin injections for dystonia treatment

Although there are currently no cures for dystonia, there are a number of treatment options available to help lessen your muscle spasms, pain, and awkward postures. These include oral medications and botulinum toxin (Botox®) injection therapy.

Henry Ford’s movement disorder specialists are highly experienced in the injection of botulinum toxin, a biological product that can relax muscles and reduce contractions. If your treatment plan includes this therapy, you will return to Henry Ford every few months for an injection. Henry Ford utilizes four different types of the neurotoxin—including the most commonly known, Botox®. These options make it possible to further tailor your treatment to you.

Deep brain stimulation for dystonia

Henry Ford Hospital is also a leader in deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery, which may be an effective option if medications do not provide you with adequate relief. We have a record of excellence in DBS surgery. Many of our patients experience significant relief from the symptoms of movement disorders with this treatment.

During DBS surgery, our expert neurosurgeons will:

  1. Place electrodes in specific areas of your brain
  2. Implant a device called an impulse generator (similar to a pacemaker) under your collarbone. This provides an electrical impulse to the part of the brain involved in motor function.

While DBS surgery is still an active area of research, doctors believe that the electrical currents produced by the impulse generator replace the abnormal brain patterns with more regular ones. This helps to control symptoms such as muscle contractions and tremors.

Learn more about how deep brain stimulation is done and our ongoing movement disorders research.

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