Dystonia is a movement disorder that refers to uncontrollable repetitive or twisting movements of the affected body part. Dystonia is thought to be a neurological condition, caused by underlying problems with the brain and nervous system. Symptoms may be mild or severe, and may interfere with daily activity performances.

Medications can sometimes improve dystonia symptoms, but inconsistently. In some more-severe cases, surgery may be used to stop or control and maintain certain brain regions or nerves.

There are five main types of dystonia:

  • Focal dystonia affects one specific area of the body ( hand or eyes) 
  • Segmental dystonia  affects two or more adjacent areas of the body
  • Multifocal dystonia  affects more than one unrelated area of the body, such as the left arm and left leg
  • Generalised dystonia – affects most of or all of the body
  • Hemidystonia affects one entire side of the body



Dystonia can occur at any age. Signs and symptoms of Dystonia include:

  • Uncontrollable muscle contractions
  • Begin in a single area (foot, hand, neck)
  • Cramping of the foot
  • Uncontrollable blinking
  • Pulling of the neck
  • Can cause shaking (such as when writing)
  • Physical difficulties performing tasks (writing, painting, playing an instrument)
  • Speech difficulties
  • May worsen with stress or anxiety



While the exact cause of dystonia remains uncertain, it is thought to be a condition that is caused by a problem with the part of the brain that controls muscle movement (basal ganglia). There may be abnormalities in the brain’s capacity to process a group of chemicals called neurotransmitters that help cells in the brain communicate with each other.  

  • Primary dystonia: Cause cannot be identified or is a genetic condition
  • Secondary dystonia: Cause is based on a symptom of another disorder or condition (stroke, birth injury, brain tumor, Parkinson’s disease, oxygen deprivation, infection)



Complications that can arise from dystonia may include the following:  

  • Permanent physical deformities
  • Blindness
  • Speech impairment
  • Jaw movement difficulty
  • Physical difficulties performing tasks
  • Severe muscle pain and tiredness

All of these complications may lead to feelings of frustration, depression or stress.