What is Dystonia?

Understanding Dystonia

Dystonia is a neurological movement disorder characterised by persistent or intermittent muscle contractions, which force certain parts of the body into abnormal sometimes painful, often repetitive, movements, postures, or both. The movements are usually patterned and twisting, and may resemble a tremor. Dystonia is often initiated or worsened by voluntary movements, and symptoms may “overflow” into adjacent muscles.


Dystonia is classified by:


1. Clinical Characteristics (including age of onset, body distribution, nature of the symptoms, and associated features such as additional movement disorders or neurological symptoms).


2. Cause (which includes changes or damage to the nervous system and inheritance). Doctors use these classifications to guide diagnosis and treatment.


Dystonia can affect any part of the body including the arms and legs, trunk, neck, eyelids, face, or vocal chords. It is a complex order because of its causes, treatment, progression, and variability of symptoms.


There are multiple forms of dystonia, and dozens of diseases and conditions may include dystonia as a symptom. Dystonia may affect a single body area or be generalised throughout multiple muscle groups.  It may result from a hereditary condition or as a result of brain injury.


Dystonia affects men, women, and children of all ages and backgrounds. It is the third most common movement disorder after Parkinson’s disease and tremor affecting an estimated 3,000 people in Ireland. Dystonia causes varying degrees of disability and pain, from mild to severe. There is not yet a cure, but multiple treatment options exist and scientists around the world are actively pursuing research toward new therapies.


Although there are several forms of dystonia and the symptoms may outwardly appear quite different, the element that all forms share is the repetitive, patterned, and often twisting involuntary muscle contractions. Dystonia is a chronic disorder, but the vast majority of dystonias do not impact cognition, intelligence, or shorten a person’s life span.