Brief eye twitches and occasional leg cramps are common and temporary, but dystonia takes these muscle contractions to a different level.
Here, Dr. Stanley Mathew, our triple-board certified physiatrist at American Rehabilitation Center, explains what causes dystonia and how physical therapy plays an integral role in your ability to manage your symptoms and improve function.
Dystonia — more than just a cramp
Dystonia is a condition where you experience intermittent involuntary muscle contractions for sustained periods of months or more. In some cases, the contraction contorts the body into abnormal positions, which can be painful and debilitating.
For example, foot dystonia can turn your foot inward and make it impossible to lift, causing it to drag. Dystonia in your hand makes it tough to control fine motor skills like handwriting, buttoning, and eating. Cervical dystonia contracts your neck muscles and pulls your head to one side. You can even experience dystonia in your eyes and voice box. Unfortunately, this progressive disorder typically worsens over time.
There are several types of dystonia, and we classify them according to the:
- Age of onset (childhood, adolescence, or adulthood)
- Single muscles (focal dystonia) or muscle groups (segmental dystonia) involved
- Underlying cause: primary (no known cause) or secondary (when dystonia is a symptom of something else)
Sometimes, dystonia occurs due to trauma, brain damage, or neurological conditions, such as Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, or multiple sclerosis. However, sometimes it occurs without an apparent reason, and even advanced imaging technology can’t find the source. In these cases, most research agrees that the underlying problem involves abnormalities in the central nervous system.
How we treat dystonia
Sadly, there’s no cure yet for dystonia, but we’ve come a long way in managing its symptoms. While medications can influence your body’s neurotransmitters and ease your dystonia symptoms, Dr. Mathew often prefers Botox® injections to safely relax contracting muscles for long periods.
As a physiatrist, Dr. Mathew also relies heavily on the benefits of physical rehabilitation to improve function and relieve dystonia pain.
Physical therapy and activity address dystonia symptoms by:
- Increasing your awareness of your body posture
- Improving movement through biofeedback, taping, and other modalities
- Assessing and improving your balance
- Training you to minimize falls
- Promoting independence through bracing, orthotics, and other devices
Physical therapy can even enhance Botox’s effects.
Living with dystonia can be challenging, but proper treatment and physical rehabilitation that targets your affected muscles can make all the difference.
To learn more or to schedule an appointment, call American Rehabilitation Center in Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, and Anamosa, Iowa, or request an appointment online.