Dystonia Treatment at John C. Lincoln Hospitals

Call 602-943-1111 for a referral to a John C. Lincoln neuro-specialist.

Affecting approximately half a million persons in the U.S. and Canada, dystonia is the third most common movement disorder, behind Parkinson's disease and essential tremor. It can be severely uncomfortable for its sufferers, as well as a significant challenge to diagnose and treat.

John C. Lincoln's highly specialized neurologists are skilled at identifying and treating the 13 forms of dystonia. Working with a team of physicians, neurosurgeons, nurses and therapists, our movement disorders specialists have the expertise needed to observe and accurately diagnose symptoms of this debilitating condition.

Because dystonia is frequently caused by genetics, we carefully consider patient and family histories. We also order tests that can rule out other movement disorders.

Dystonia is a chronic disorder that currently has no cure. Therefore, we do all we can to help patients, families and caregivers manage — and potentially overcome — its debilitating effects.

Dystonia Symptoms

People affected by dystonia typically exhibit sustained twisting movements, which force the body into an abnormal position. These involuntarily movements usually point in one direction, which can be highly uncomfortable, even painful.

Approximately 40% of our bodies are made of skeletal muscle — the type of muscle that we can see, feel and move voluntarily. These muscles work in "opposing" pairs: When the brain sends a signal to do so, one muscle contracts, the other relaxes.

When dystonia symptoms are present, muscles that are told to relax simply disregard the brain's orders. Muscles appear to compete with each other.

Dystonia symptoms are typically concentrated on one part of the body; this is called "focal dystonia." Cervical dystonia results in twisting movements of the head and neck. Hand dystonia, called "writer's cramp," affects the hand and forearm.

Dystonia Treatments

John C. Lincoln's Neuroscience Department offers state-of-the-art technology and some of the newest treatments available for managing dystonia disability, including deep brain stimulation.

  • Deep brain stimulation is a breakthrough technology that involves implanting two wire transmitters into the brain. Wires run under the skin, from the scalp to the chest. There, an impulse generator — a pacemaker — is located. At John C. Lincoln, a movement disorders specialist can program this pacemaker — and adjust it as necessary, without further surgery — so that it sends the proper amount of electrical signals to the source of involuntary contractions in the brain.
  • The exact location of deep brain stimulation can be determined using stereotactic surgery, a cutting-edge technique in which highly detailed maps of the brain are utilized.
  • Medications: Many oral medications exist for treating dystonia. Generally, these work to block a neurotransmitter that causes affected muscles to contract (called acetylcholine). Our neurologists work with patients to find the right medication for treating their symptoms.
  • Injections: When injected directly into a muscle, botulinum toxin, also known as Botox, has proven to relax muscles by blocking acetylcholine.