Dystonia Overview


A dystonia is an unaware controllable and prolonged muscle contraction. It can occur regardless of a person’s age. Therapeutic approaches for treating symptoms are based on the form of dystonia and the symptoms of a person affected.

What is dystonia?

According to nonprofitdictionary, dystonia is a nerve disorder that is characterized by involuntary (not controlled by the will) muscle contractions in the person affected. Which muscles are affected by dystonia differs depending on the individual case:

If there is so-called generalized dystonia, the muscles of the whole body or a large part of the body can be affected by muscle contractions. So-called focal dystonia, on the other hand, usually only affects individual muscle groups.

Muscle contractions in the context of dystonia can manifest themselves, for example, through certain movements of the person affected or through changes in posture. Dystonia can occur in people of any age; generalized dystonia often begins in childhood, while focal dystonia often occurs in mid-adulthood.


Often the causes that led to dystonia remain unknown. The causes differ fundamentally in different forms of dystonia: While the so-called primary dystonia is usually based on direct causes, the less common secondary dystonia occurs as a symptom of another underlying factor.

Primary dystonia may be influenced by genetic factors; however, the nerve disorder can be present in different forms in different family members. There are many possible causes of secondary dystonia: This form of dystonia can be caused by underlying diseases such as Parkinson ‘s disease or Huntington’s disease.

Secondary dystonia can also occur as a side effect of so-called neuroleptics (drugs that have a depressant effect). Experience reports from those affected often cite accidents involving the neck before secondary dystonia occurred.

Symptoms, ailments & signs

In most cases, dystonia involves involuntary twitching and movement of muscles. This usually affects various muscles, so that the person affected cannot control this region. The dystonia occurs regardless of age and can therefore also affect different groups of people.

In addition to the twitches, those affected often also suffer from cramps in the muscles or severe tension. These are associated with pain, so that the quality of life of the person affected is significantly reduced. Often, those affected by dystonia can no longer perform strenuous activities or sports and are therefore restricted in their lives.

Muscle tremors can also occur in dystonia and continue to complicate everyday life. In children, the disease can also lead to developmental disorders, as the disease prevents children from playing or participating in sports, for example. Often psychological complaints or depression also occur.

Children can also become victims of bullying or teasing. The life expectancy of the patient is usually not adversely affected by dystonia. In some cases, wounds do not heal properly due to the twitching, and in the worst case scenario blood poisoning can result.

Diagnosis & course

A medical interview with the person affected and a physical examination are often sufficient to diagnose dystonia. Occasionally the diagnosis of dystonia is confirmed by blood tests, magnetic resonance tomograms (by MRI) or electromyograms (by EMG).

The course of dystonia varies from person to person. In some cases, primary dystonia begins with relatively severe symptoms (and pain involved), which then completely subside within a time frame of about 3 years. A new disease after a decline is possible here, however.

In other cases, for example, symptoms of primary dystonia may worsen over a period of about 3 to 5 years before the disease often stabilizes. The course of secondary dystonia if the underlying disease is present essentially depends on the course of this underlying disease.


Since muscle groups or even just individual muscles move in an uncontrolled manner in dystonia, various complications can also arise in this context. Many affected people injure their hands that are very difficult to heal.

Wounds caused by repeated “knocking out” or by stress cannot heal properly. It is not uncommon for a simple wound to develop into an inflammation that should definitely be treated with appropriate medication. Otherwise, there is even a risk of blood poisoning if the inflammation forms an abscess.

At this point at the latest, a doctor should definitely be consulted. Other complications or side effects are severe and long-lasting headaches, permanent tremors in individual limbs and hematomas. Dystonia also weakens the human body so that affected people become tired and exhausted much faster.

Anyone suffering from the first signs of dystonia should not put off a visit to the doctor. The complications and side effects mentioned above can only be treated with an early diagnosis. A full recovery is very rarely possible. However, appropriate medication can bring about a significant improvement in wellbeing.

When should you go to the doctor?

Dystonia is a disease in which the human movement is very restricted. In the process, individual muscle groups become very tense, so that the person concerned can no longer properly regulate individual movement sequences. If you do not go to the doctor at this point, the symptoms will intensify immensely within a short time. In addition, there may be other side effects, such as headache, fever, nausea or vomiting. If you experience these symptoms then you should definitely see a doctor.

With appropriate treatment and the right medication, these side effects can be combated very well and effectively. If the affected person opts for treatment by a doctor, the symptoms that arise can be alleviated and combated very well.

Anyone who suffers from dystonia should definitely seek medical and drug treatment. A quick improvement can be achieved in this way. Complete healing is only possible if such treatment takes place early on. If you wait too long to see a doctor, you may have to reckon with consequential damage that is irreparable.

Treatment & Therapy

An effective therapy initially depends on the type of dystonia. If the causes of primary dystonia are unclear, therapy is usually aimed at treating the symptoms that occur; a cure for dystonia is currently usually not possible in these cases. Depending on the therapeutic requirements, dystonia can be treated on an outpatient basis or in specialized centers.

Local injection treatment is usually used for effective treatment of focal dystonia. So-called botulinum toxin is injected into the muscle affected by the dystonia. The toxin inhibits communication between nerves and muscles, so the muscle contractions of dystonia decrease. As a rule, the injection treatments are continued every three months.

Injection therapy for dystonia can be supported in individual cases by administering drugs that work in a similar direction to botulinum toxin. Surgical procedures to treat dystonia are performed in some people; For example, it is possible to sever connections between nerves and muscles or use a so-called brain pacemaker.

Outlook & forecast

Dystonia does not heal itself and, as a rule, the symptoms do not improve if no treatment is initiated.

Dystonia is associated with severe muscle twitching, which occurs involuntarily and which significantly reduces the person’s quality of life. There is also strong tension, with those affected often trembling. Dystonia makes everyday life difficult, which can lead to delayed development in children. In many cases, the symptoms increase with age, so that symptoms and complications can also arise in adulthood. Only in rare cases do the symptoms of dystonia go away on their own in childhood.

The treatment can be done with the help of medication and significantly limits the symptoms so that a normal development is possible for the patient. Various therapies may also be necessary to support the muscles. Usually, however, the disease progresses positively if the disease is treated. An early start of treatment has a very positive effect on the disease. The life expectancy of the patient is not affected by the dystonia.


Due to the lack of knowledge of the causes that can lead to the various forms of dystonia, appropriate prevention is usually hardly possible. The main way to prevent the development of severe symptoms in dystonia is to identify the disease early and treat it appropriately.


In most cases, the person affected with dystonia does not have any special options or measures for follow-up care. The person concerned is primarily dependent on early detection and subsequent treatment of the disease so that there are no further complications. The further course and the success of the treatment depend very much on the exact underlying disease, so that no general prediction can be made here.

Under certain circumstances, the life expectancy of the person affected is also limited by the dystonia. In most cases, treatment is carried out with the help of medication, physiotherapy, and physiotherapy. The person affected can also perform many of the exercises from such a therapy in their own home and thereby increase the mobility of the muscles again.

When taking any medication, the patient should always follow the doctor’s instructions. If you have any questions or are unclear, a doctor should always be contacted so that there are no complications or other complaints. Furthermore, the support and care of one’s own family and friends makes sense in order to make everyday life easier for the person concerned.

You can do that yourself

The therapy of dystonia focuses on medicinal and surgical procedures. What patients can do to improve their health and quality of life depends on the type of disorder.

Patients suffering from a severe form of blepharospasm have to blink at such extremely short intervals that many everyday activities such as working on a computer screen, watching TV or reading a book are no longer possible. Here it often makes sense to switch to offers and technologies that have been developed for the blind, even if the patient has not lost sight at all.

Speech recognition can make working on the screen easier. Wearing dark glasses while watching TV makes it easier to concentrate on the sound and at least be able to watch the news or political programs. Many books are also available as audio books.

In the case of persistent misalignments, physiotherapeutic and orthopedic measures can prevent damage to the joints and the associated restriction of movement. If a so-called torticollis occurs due to cervical dystonia, wearing a neck brace can be helpful.