Dystonia is a disorder that affects the way the body moves. It causes the muscles to contract, making them move involuntarily or get stuck in an abnormal position. Dystonia can affect the entire body or a certain part and the movements can sometimes cause pain.

Symptoms may start slowly; you might notice that your handwriting is deteriorating. Sometimes you may get cramps in the feet or, more noticeably, you may lose control over a foot and find that it contracts or drags along.

Other symptoms of dystonia can include:

  • Involuntary and rapid blinking that you can’t stop
  • A sudden tightening or turning of the neck to one side, particularly when you’re feeling fatigued or stressed
  • Difficulty speaking
  • A tremor in your voice
  • Symptoms that worsen with tiredness, stress, or lots of physical activity

Types of dystonia

There are different types of dystonia. Each type is identified by which part of the body is affected:

  • Hemidystonia affects a leg and arm on one side of the body.
  • Multifocal dystonia affects at least two different parts of the body.
  • Segmental dystonia affects at least two parts of the body that are next to each other.
  • Generalized dystonia affects areas all over the body or the entire body.
  • Focal dystonia affects one particular area of the body.


Diagnosing dystonia is a multistep process because no particular test can give a definitive answer. Your doctor will usually perform a physical exam and evaluate your symptoms, plus take a personal and family history to find out if you have any genetic indications for dystonia.

Other tests used to help diagnose dystonia include:

  • Genetic tests to look for known mutations linked to dystonia
  • Tests to analyze blood, urine, and cerebrospinal fluid
  • Testing that can eliminate other health conditions as the cause of your symptoms
  • An EEG (electroencephalography) or EMG (electromyography)