Dystonia is a movement disorder that causes muscles to contract uncontrollably. Dystonia affects about 1% of the population and is more common in women than men. Dystonia can affect different body parts, and often the symptoms of dystonia progress through stages.

Overview and Symptoms

Some early symptoms include:

  • Turning or dragging of the leg and foot
  • Cramping of the foot
  • Involuntary pulling of the neck
  • Uncontrollable blinking
  • Speech difficulties
  • Worsening handwriting

To diagnose dystonia, your doctor will start with a medical history and physical examination. Your doctor will also take into consideration when your symptoms started, the order in which your symptoms developed and the speed at which your symptoms are progression. To determine if underlying conditions are causing your symptoms, your doctor might recommend:

  • Blood or urine tests to look for signs of toxins or of other conditions.
  • MRI or CT scan to help identify abnormalities in your brain, such as tumors, lesions or evidence of a stroke.
  • Electromyography (EMG), a test that measures the electrical activity within muscles.


Dystonia may be treated with a combination of medication and speech therapy, physical therapy and/or stress management. BIDMC also offers a surgical treatment called globus pallidus deep brain stimulation, or GPi DBS. This treatment requires frequent follow-up visits for the first three months after surgery. You may also have the option of Transcranial magnetic stimulation or TMS, a neurophysiological technique that allows the induction of a current in the brain using a magnetic field to pass the scalp and the skull safely and painlessly.

Learn More

The Department of Neurology provides a full range of both inpatient and outpatient neurological services through a variety of subspecialty clinics, including  Cognitive Neurology, Epilepsy, Stroke, Neuromuscular Disease, Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders, Neuro-ophthalmology, Neuro-oncology, Neuro-HIV, Neurogenetics, Multiple Sclerosis, and Sleep Disorders.

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