Want to Take Control of Dystonia Symptoms? Powerful Natural Treatment

last updated April 21 0 comments

dystonia exercises

Have you ever witnessed someone struggling with uncontrollable head tremors or shaking? This could be a sign of a neurological movement disorder called dystonia. In this article, we'll explore dystonia symptoms and a promising approach to managing them: individualized posture therapy.

What is Dystonia?

Dystonia, the third most common movement disorder, is a neurological movement disorder characterized by involuntary muscle contractions that cause the body to twist and move in abnormal posturing. These contractions can be sustained or repetitive and affect single muscles, muscle groups, or, in some cases, the entire body.

dystonia causes and effects

Dystonia is the third most prevalent movement disorder, affecting approximately 500,000 adults and children in North America. After Parkinson's, dystonia is the most common movement disorder encountered in movement disorder clinics.

Here's a breakdown of the key points about dystonia:

  • Symptoms: Involuntary muscle contractions causing twisting, repetitive movements, or abnormal postures.
  • Effects: These abnormal muscle movements can range from mild tremors to disabling postures that significantly impact daily life.
  • Causes: The exact cause of dystonia is unknown, but it's believed to be related to abnormal functioning in the part of the brain responsible for controlling movement.
  • Types: There are several types of dystonia classified based on the affected body part (focal dystonia), the number of body parts involved (generalized dystonia), or the cause (secondary dystonia caused by another medical condition).
  • Treatment: There's no known cure for dystonia currently, but various treatment options can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life. These may include medications, botulinum toxin injections, physical therapy, and, in some cases, surgery.

Some additional details about dystonia:

  • It can affect people of all ages, although it often starts in adulthood.
  • The symptoms of dystonia can vary greatly from person to person.
  • Dystonia can be a very painful condition.
  • There is no single test that can definitively diagnose dystonia. Doctors typically rely on a combination of a physical examination, medical history, and sometimes imaging tests to make a diagnosis.

If you're concerned that you or someone you know might have dystonia, it's important to see a doctor for evaluation and diagnosis. Early diagnosis and treatment of dystonia can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life.

What are the Different Types of Dystonia?

Dystonia can affect many parts of the body, and there are several ways to classify the different types. Here's a breakdown of some common classifications:

types of dystonia

By Distribution:

  • Focal Dystonia: This type of dystonia affects a single muscle or small group of muscles. Examples include:
    • Blepharospasm: Involuntary blinking or eye closure.
    • Oromandibular Dystonia: Affects the jaw, face, and tongue, causing involuntary movements like grimacing or jaw clenching.
    • Cervical Dystonia (Rotatory Torticollis): Twisting of the neck muscles, tilting the head to one side.
    • Writer's Cramp: Affects the hand and forearm, causing involuntary movements that interfere with writing.
  • Segmental Dystonia: Involves two or more adjacent areas of the body. For example, cervical dystonia with blepharospasm affecting the neck, face, and eyes.
  • Multifocal Dystonia: Affects two or more separate body parts that are not close together.
  • Generalized Dystonia: This involves the entire body or most major muscle groups.

By Cause:

  • Primary Dystonia (Idiopathic): No known cause.
  • Secondary Dystonia: Caused by another underlying medical condition like a brain injurylesiontumors, stroke, or medications.

Other Types of Dystonia:

  • Myoclonic Dystonia: Combines dystonic postures with sudden, involuntary muscle jerks (myoclonus).
  • Task-specific Dystonia: Involuntary movements triggered by specific activities like writing or playing a musical instrument. (E.g., musician’s dystonia)

It's important to note that this is not an exhaustive list, and these classifications and forms of dystonia can overlap. A healthcare professional, such as a neurologist, can help diagnose the specific type of dystonia based on the affected body parts and the characteristics of the involuntary movements.

How Does Exercise Help Dystonia?

best types of exercise for dystonia

Not all exercise affects dystonia in the same way. Shown above are physical activity and exercise types and their impact on dystonia symptoms from the study by McCambridge et al, showing the percentage of those that answered "better" (green), "no change" (blue), and "worse" (red) for each activity.

While exercise isn't a direct cure for dystonia, it can offer several benefits for managing symptoms and improving overall well-being in those affected by the condition. Here's how exercise can help with dystonia:

Reduced Muscle Tension and Spasticity:

Improved Coordination and Control:

  • Certain types of exercise can help improve neuromuscular control and coordination, making it easier for people with dystonia to perform daily activities and manage involuntary movements.
  • Activities that stimulate the nervous system, such as balance training, posture alignment therapy, tai chi, or Pilates, can be beneficial in this regard.

Enhanced Mood and Pain Management:

  • Exercise releases endorphins, which have mood-boosting and pain-relieving effects. This can be helpful for people with dystonia who may experience pain or emotional distress due to their condition.
  • Low-impact aerobic activities like walking, swimming, or cycling can promote endorphin release and improve overall well-being.

Reduced Risk of Other Health Conditions:

  • Regular exercise is crucial for maintaining overall health and preventing other conditions like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. These conditions can worsen symptoms of dystonia and impact quality of life.

Important Considerations:

  • It's important to choose exercises that are appropriate for your individual needs and limitations. Talking to a physical therapist or movement expert experienced in dystonia can help you create a safe and effective exercise program.
  • While many types of exercise for dystonia symptoms are available, studies show that low-impact exercise helps more people with dystonia feel better and not feel worse after exercise.
  • Start slowly and gradually increase the intensity and duration of your workouts as tolerated.
  • It's crucial to listen to your body and stop if you experience any pain or worsening of symptoms.

Remember: While exercise doesn't cure dystonia, it can be a valuable tool for managing symptoms, improving function, and enhancing overall well-being for people living with the condition. Choosing the right type of exercise and physical activity that helps feel better versus worse is essential.

In the Clinic: Posture Therapy - Helping the Body to Relax

scoliosis asymmetry

Working with a client experiencing this condition, she told us of her dystonia diagnosis. We could observe her neck muscles involuntarily contract, causing her head to shake back and forth constantly. Her posture assessment showed a significant hunch in her upper back (kyphosis and cervical spine flexion).

We noticed something interesting: when we addressed the tightness and lack of extension in her thoracic spine (middle back), her neck muscles relaxed, and the shaking subsided. Her eyes, wide with tension during the tremors, softened and closed slightly as she finally found relief.

Client experiences like this highlight a fascinating aspect of dystonia– sometimes, the root cause of seemingly isolated tremors can lie elsewhere in the body. Because individualized posture therapy addresses the interactions of the nervous and musculoskeletal systems, it explores the causes of muscle spasms and other related symptoms while adjusting treatment approaches accordingly.

Ready to Move Toward Relief?

Dystonia can be a challenging condition, but you don't have to face it alone. Our team can help better understand the postural impact of dystonia and is dedicated to helping you find effective management strategies.

Moving Toward Relief: How Activ8 Posture Integrates Exercises for Dystonia with a Holistic Approach

Dystonia can significantly impact your ability to move and participate in daily activities. While a cure remains elusive, a holistic approach that addresses the mind-body connection can offer significant relief. Activ8 Posture embraces this philosophy, incorporating physical activity as a key tool alongside other strategies.

Our unique approach goes beyond simply "exercise." We utilize targeted mobility and strengthening exercises designed to improve your body's alignment and overall efficiency. This focus on proper alignment aims to:

  • Enhance your movement quality: By improving flexibility, range of motion, and motor control, you'll be able to move more easily and potentially reduce limitations caused by involuntary movements.
  • Reduce pain and discomfort: Improved body mechanics can alleviate muscle tension and spasms, leading to significant pain relief.
  • Make physical activity easier and more enjoyable: Better alignment and a more efficient body make it easier to engage in various physical activities, promoting overall well-being.

Below, we explore the pros and cons of physical activity for dystonia from a holistic perspective. We'll explore how exercise can be a powerful tool within your management strategy when tailored appropriately.

The Role of Physical Activity and Exercise for Dystonia from a Holistic Perspective

Pros of Physical Activity for Dystonia (from a holistic viewpoint):

  • Improved Movement: Exercise can enhance flexibility, range of motion, and motor control. This can help individuals with dystonia move more efficiently and reduce limitations caused by involuntary movements.
  • Stress Reduction and Improved Mood: Physical activity is a well-known stress reliever and mood booster. This can be particularly beneficial for people who may experience anxiety or depression due to their condition. A holistic approach to dystonia management recognizes the mind-body connection and the importance of emotional well-being.
  • Improved Sleep Quality: Regular exercise can promote better sleep patterns, which is crucial for overall health and managing dystonia symptoms. Many holistic treatment approaches emphasize healthy sleep habits as a cornerstone of well-being.
  • Pain Management: Exercise can help reduce pain perception and improve pain tolerance. This can be helpful for people with dystonia who experience chronic pain due to muscle tightness or spasms. A holistic approach often incorporates pain management techniques like mindfulness alongside exercise.
  • Sense of Empowerment and Self-Management: Engaging in physical activity can give individuals with dystonia a sense of control over their bodies and their condition. This aligns with the holistic philosophy of empowering individuals to participate actively in their own health management.

Cons of Physical Activity for Dystonia (from a holistic viewpoint):

  • Finding a Balanced Approach: It's crucial to find exercises that challenge the body without triggering or worsening dystonic symptoms. A holistic approach emphasizes individualized care and exercise selection, which should be tailored to each person's unique needs and limitations.
  • Importance of Rest and Recovery: Overexertion can worsen dystonia symptoms. A holistic approach acknowledges the importance of listening to your body and incorporating rest days and recovery techniques into your exercise routine.
  • Mind-Body Connection: Stress and anxiety can exacerbate dystonia symptoms. A holistic approach may recommend incorporating stress management techniques like meditation or deep breathing alongside exercise to create a well-rounded program.


A holistic approach to physical activity, such as our program at Activ8 Posture, can be a valuable tool for managing dystonia. By focusing on improving muscle movement and mobility quality, reducing stress, promoting better sleep, managing pain, and empowering individuals, exercise can contribute to a higher quality of life for those living with symptoms. However, a cautious and individualized approach is essential to avoid worsening symptoms. Creating a personalized exercise plan is a crucial aspect of a holistic approach.

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Ready to Move Toward Relief?

Dystonia can be a challenging condition, but you don't have to face it alone. We understand the frustration and limitations it can cause. Now that you've learned more about what it is and the potential benefits of a holistic approach, it's time to explore your options.

Our Free Consultation is your opportunity to:

  • Discuss your symptoms and concerns with a qualified posture therapist.
  • Learn more about personalized treatment options, including Activ8 Posture therapy.
  • Explore how we can help you achieve a higher quality of life despite dystonia.

Don't wait to take control of your health! Schedule your Free Consultation today. Contact us or click the button below to get started.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best treatment for dystonia?

There's no single "best" treatment for dystonia, as the most effective approach will depend on the specific type and severity of your condition. However, a holistic approach that combines various strategies often yields the best results. Here are some common treatment options:

  • Medications: Medications like muscle relaxants, anticholinergics, and dopamine agonists can help manage muscle spasms and tremors.
  • Botulinum Toxin Injections: Botox injections can temporarily paralyze overactive muscles, reducing involuntary movements.
  • Occupational Therapy or Physical Therapy: Occupational or physical therapy can improve flexibility, range of motion, and muscle strength, potentially reducing limitations caused by dystonia.
  • Posture Therapy: Similar to physical therapyposture therapy focuses on correcting postural imbalances that may contribute to dystonia symptoms. Activ8 Posture's targeted posture, mobility, and strengthening exercises are a specific type of alternative physical therapy that focuses on improving body alignment for optimal movement and pain relief.
  • Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS): In severe cases, DBS surgery may be considered. DBS implants electrodes in the brain to regulate abnormal nerve signals causing dystonia.

What are the symptoms of dystonia?

The main symptom of dystonia is involuntary muscle contractions that cause the body to twist and move in abnormal ways. These contractions can be:

  • Sustained (tonic): These contractions cause a muscle or group of muscles to stay contracted for a prolonged period, leading to abnormal postures or positions. For example, sustained contractions in the neck muscles can cause your head to tilt to one side (cervical dystonia).
  • Repetitive (phasic): These contractions cause a muscle or group of muscles to twitch or jerk repeatedly. The movements can be rhythmic or irregular. For instance, repetitive eyelid contractions can lead to uncontrollable blinking (blepharospasm).
  • A combination of both: Sometimes, dystonia can involve a mix of sustained and repetitive contractions.

The specific symptoms will vary depending on the affected body part. Here are some examples:

  • Cervical Dystonia (Spasmodic Torticollis): Twisting of the neck muscles, tilting the head to one side. This is a sustained contraction that causes an abnormal head position.
  • Blepharospasm: Involuntary blinking or eye closure caused by repetitive contractions in the eyelid muscles.
  • Oromandibular Dystonia: Affects the jaw, face, and tongue, causing involuntary movements like grimacing or jaw clenching. It can involve both sustained and repetitive contractions in different muscle groups of the face and jaw. (In cases of spasmodic dysphonia, the vocal cords can be affected, and speech therapy may be necessary as part of treatment.)
  • Myoclonus-dystonia: This is a rare form of dystonia that combines muscle spasms (myoclonus) with sustained abnormal postures caused by it.
  • Hemidystonia: This type of dystonia affects one entire side of the body, including the limbs and sometimes the face.
  • Dopa-Responsive Dystonia: This is a rare genetic form that improves significantly with levodopa, a medication used to treat Parkinson's disease.
  • Laryngeal Dystonia: This affects the muscles of the voice box (larynx), causing involuntary changes in speech or difficulty speaking.
  • Tardive Dystonia: This is a rare side effect of long-term treatment with levodopa for Parkinson's disease. It causes involuntary writhing movements.
  • Writer's Cramp: Affects the hand and forearm, causing involuntary movements that interfere with writing. This is a task-specific dystonia triggered by a specific activity.
  • Rapid-onset Dystonia-Parkinsonism (RDP): This is a rare neurological syndrome that combines symptoms of dystonia and Parkinsonism (tremors, stiffness, slowness of movement).

What is the cause of dystonia?

The exact cause of dystonia remains unknown. However, researchers believe it stems from abnormal functioning in the part of the brain responsible for movement control. Here's a closer look at some potential contributing factors:

  1. Genetic Predisposition: In some cases, dystonia can be hereditary, passed down through families. A family history of dystonia increases an individual's risk. Genetic testing can be a valuable tool in uncovering the specific genetic cause (etiology) in these cases.
  2. Gene MutationsOur genes provide instructions for building proteins essential for the body's functions. Mutations are alterations in the genetic code that can disrupt protein function. Specific gene mutations have been linked to certain types of hereditary dystonia. These mutations may disrupt proteins involved in brain development or nerve signaling, leading to the characteristic abnormal movement patterns of dystonia.
  3. Early OnsetEarly-onset dystonia typically appears in childhood or adolescence (before age 26). This early onset often coincides with cases with a clear genetic link, suggesting a stronger influence of gene mutations. While not a definitive rule, early-onset dystonia is more likely to be caused by identifiable genetic mutations compared to cases that develop later in life.
  4. Brain InjuryInjuries to the brain, such as those caused by trauma, accidents, or concussions, can damage the areas responsible for movement control, potentially triggering dystonia.
  5. Stroke: A stroke occurs when blood flow to part of the brain is interrupted, causing brain tissue damage. Damage to the basal ganglia, a brain region involved in movement coordination, can lead to dystonia as a post-stroke complication.
  6. Infection: Certain infections, particularly those affecting the brain or central nervous system, can trigger dystonia. The exact mechanisms by which infections cause it are still under investigation.
  7. Certain Medications: In rare instances, some medications, particularly those affecting dopamine levels in the brain, can cause medication-induced dystonia as a side effect.

It's important to note that these are just potential contributing factors, and the cause of dystonia may involve a combination of these elements or remain unknown (idiopathic) in some cases.

What is dystonia vs. dyskinesia?

Both dystonia and dyskinesia are involuntary movement disorders. However, they have some key differences:

  • Dystonia: Causes sustained or repetitive muscle contractions, often leading to twisting postures.
  • Dyskinesia: Causes involuntary, jerky movements that can be unpredictable and worsen with medication. Dyskinesia is a common side effect of long-term levodopa therapy used in Parkinson's disease.

Can dystonia go away?

In most cases, dystonia is a chronic condition that cannot be completely cured. However, with a combination of treatment approaches, symptoms can be managed effectively, improving quality of life. Early diagnosis and intervention are crucial for achieving optimal management.

How are the following related to dystonia?

  • Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS): This is a surgical treatment option for severe dystonia that involves implanting electrodes in the brain to regulate abnormal nerve signals. DBS can be very effective in reducing dystonic symptoms in some cases.
  • Parkinson's Disease: Parkinson's disease is a movement disorder caused by the degeneration of brain cells that produce dopamine. While dystonia can be a rare symptom of Parkinson's, these are distinct conditions. However, DBS therapy, which is used for some cases of dystonia, is also used in Parkinson's disease to manage tremors and rigidity.
  • Basal Ganglia: The basal ganglia are a group of structures deep within the brain that play a crucial role in coordinating movement. Both dystonia and Parkinson's disease are thought to be associated with dysfunction in the basal ganglia circuits.
  • Dyskinesia: Dyskinesia is a general term for involuntary movements that can be a side effect of long-term levodopa therapy used in Parkinson's diseaseDyskinesia can sometimes be confused with dystonia, but they have distinct characteristics.
  • Wilson's Disease: This is a rare genetic disorder that causes copper buildup in the brain, leading to various neurological symptoms, including dystonia. In Wilson's disease, dystonia can be one of the presenting features.
  • Huntington's Disease: This is another genetic disorder affecting brain cells that can cause various movement disorders, including chorea (involuntary jerky movements) and dystonia. While chorea is the more prominent movement abnormality in Huntington's, dystonia can also occur in some cases.
  • Meige Syndrome: This is a neurological disorder characterized by a combination of blepharospasm (involuntary blinking) and oromandibular dystonia (affecting jaw and face). It's considered a form of primary dystonia.
  • Palsy: Palsy is a general term for weakness or paralysis, which various conditions can cause. Dystonia itself doesn't typically cause weakness, but it can lead to limitations in movement due to involuntary muscle contractions.
  • Sensory Tricks: These are voluntary actions or postures that some people with dystonia find to alleviate their involuntary movements temporarily. The exact reason why sensory tricks work is not fully understood, but they are thought to trigger competing sensory signals in the brain that can temporarily suppress dystonic movements.

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