Dystonia is a neurological movement disorder in which a person experiences muscle contractions that are often painful and posture-altering and that result in involuntary, repetitive movements. There are several types of dystonia. Although there is not a cure for the condition, there are treatment methods that attempt to relieve or correct the symptoms. These include physical therapy, injections, and surgery. All methods of dystonia treatment may not be suitable for all people.
Bracing and physical therapy are two dystonia treatment methods that may be used in connection with one another. Bracing is a procedure that immobilizes part of the body for a time using a brace. This is done with the intention of stopping nerve signals. Once this is complete, patients are often encouraged to undergo physical therapy to correct their posture.
Medication is often used to try to control chemicals in the nervous system. Finding the appropriate dystonia treatment drugs can be quite a task. Some patients will not have a positive response to regimens that have worked for others. There are several categories of drugs that may be tested. Each generally has a list of possible side effects.
Anticholinergics, for example, may be prescribed. These are drugs that block a chemical in the nervous system called acetylcholine. This helps to prevent muscle contractions.
Benzodiazepines affect chemicals in the nervous system and in the brain. Two of the most common drugs used in this category for dystonia treatment are Valium and Klonapin. When they are effective, these drugs produce muscle relaxing effects.
Dopamine levels may be manipulated as part of dystonia treatment. In some cases, dopaminergic agents are used to increase the amount of dopamine. In other cases, there are efforts to decrease the levels of dopamine with blocking or depleting agents.
Some patients’ dystonia treatment includes injections. Botulinum toxin is a substance used to prevent the muscles from receiving contraction signals from the brain. This substance can be injected directly into muscles.
There are various types of surgical procedures that may be suggested for a person with dystonia. Thyroplasty, for example, is a procedure that aims to correct a problem caused by dystonia. This is a reversible procedure that seeks to restore a person’s voice or relieve the vocal strain.
Pallidotomy, however, is a surgical procedure that attempts to address the syndrome itself. This surgery permanently alters the brain. In this procedure, the brain is assessed using imaging technology to find a target where signals originate. A lesion is then created to attempt to decrease or eliminate the signals from the brain to the muscles.
Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is another surgical treatment option. This procedure involves implanting electrodes in the brain. These are connected by a wire to a pulse generator that is generally placed near the top of the collar bone. The pulse generator, which is battery operated, provides power for electrical signals that the electrodes impart on the brain.