Abnormal and Uncontrolled Movement

Dystonia refers to uncontrolled or slow and jerky body movement, typically in the large muscle groups. Dystonia causes involuntary movements in the head, arms and legs, trunk or neck. It can cause the patient to experience unusual postures that they cannot control. Sleep can reduce or eliminate these abnormal movements, while emotional stress can make the movements worse.

Dystonia Symptoms, Diagnosis & Outlook

Dystonia Symptoms and Diagnosis

Dystonia can be caused by a number of conditions, including:

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Side effects of drugs, especially for mental disorders
  • Encephalitis
  • Genetic diseases
  • Hepatic encephalopathy
  • Huntington disease
  • Stroke
  • Head and neck trauma
  • Pregnancy

If you or a loved one are experiencing unexplained movements that you cannot control, call Penn State Health. Our expert neurology team is here to provide comprehensive evaluation, diagnostic testing and a treatment plan designed specifically for your needs. Your physician will perform a physical exam which might include a detailed examination of the nervous and muscle systems, and will review your medical history with you.

Questions you might be asked during your appointment include:

  • When did you develop this problem?
  • Is it always the same?
  • Is it always present, or does it only occur sometimes?
  • Is it getting worse?
  • Is it worse after exercising?
  • Is it worse during times of emotional stress?
  • Have you been injured or in an accident recently?
  • Have you been sick recently?
  • Is it better after you sleep?
  • Does anyone else in your family have a similar problem?
  • What other symptoms do you have?
  • What medicines are you taking?

Testing will help our neurologists better understand your condition. Possible testing for dystonia includes:

  • Blood studies, including a metabolic panel, complete blood count (CBC) and blood differential
  • CT scan of the head or affected area
  • EEG
  • EMG and nerve conduction velocity study
  • Genetic studies
  • Lumbar puncture
  • MRI of the head or affected area
  • Urinalysis
  • Pregnancy test

Treatment for dystonia will vary by patient. Our Penn State Health team will evaluate your movement problem and any underlying condition that could be attributed to the problem. Together, we will discuss medication options based on your symptoms and test results. At-home treatment options, including sleep and stress management, will also be suggested for you to incorporate into your daily life.


Sometimes two conditions can interact to cause dystonia. Our team will evaluate the cause of your abnormal movements and create a treatment plan. If you are diagnosed with dystonia, some at-home suggestions include getting enough sleep, avoiding too much stress, taking safety measures to prevent possible injury and following your prescribed treatment plan. 

Support Groups

Support groups provide an opportunity to share your feelings and connect with other patients and caregivers who are experiencing similar struggles.

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Why Choose Penn State Health for Care

The experts at Penn State Neuroscience Institute are committed to providing comprehensive, cutting-edge diagnostic and treatment options for patients with dystonia. We are also committed to furthering research and clinical trials for movement disorders. Learn more about available Penn State Health clinical trials at StudyFinder.

Designated Center of Excellence

The Milton S. Hershey Medical Center offers access to the only Level 4 Epilepsy Center in central Pennsylvania.

The Level 4 designation is granted by the National Association of Epilepsy Centers. Level 4 is the highest designation and means we offer the most complex types of epileptic diagnostic evaluations and treatment options, including intensive neurodiagnostic monitoring, as well as more extensive medical, neuropsychological and psychosocial treatment. Our Level 4 center also performs complete evaluations for epilepsy surgery, including intracranial electrodes.

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