Dystonia – What is it & How exercise can help!

Dystonia is a neurological movement disorder that causes the muscles of the body to contract or spasm involuntarily. These muscle contractions generate twisting, repetitive and patterned movements in addition to abnormal postures. The condition can affect large or small muscle groups ranging from muscles around the eye’s and face region, through to full body muscular contractions. The aetiology of dystonia remains somewhat of a mystery with current research indicating the condition can be genetic, result from a physical trauma, a reaction to certain medications or other neurological conditions. This broad causality has lead to the condition being classified as idiopathic effecting people of all ages, and back grounds.

Treatment of Dystonia includes medical interventions such as botulinum toxin injections which help to temporarily weaken the muscles, however this treatment needs to be repeated every three to four months and works best when combined with exercise-based treatments including stretching, range of movement and strengthening opposing muscle groups.

Exercise has been demonstrated to be effective in assisting with mobility, posture, balance, stamina, and most importantly the ability to complete every day tasks.  Treatment includes mirror therapy through which clients can address compensatory movement patterns and copy the unaffected side. This form of treatment has the added effect of increased postural awareness.

It is considered important for patients with Dystonia to take extended breaks throughout a bout of exercise for 5-10minutes. As with all treatment interventions exercises should be specific to the impacted muscle group, with the best outcomes coming when combined with pharmacological interventions. Other contraindications for exercise include asymmetrical movements, which may exacerbate the condition. Exercise is important to the treatment of Dystonia, to gain better understanding of exercise that can assist patients with Dystonia contact the Accredited Exercise Physiologists at Absolute Balance.

Ingrid Hand

Exercise Rehabilitation Manager (ESSAM AEP)