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Physical Therapy for Dystonia

Sandeep Dhanyamraju MD
Medically reviewed by Sandeep Dhanyamraju
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Sandeep Dhanyamraju MD
Medically reviewed by Sandeep Dhanyamraju

Dystonia is a condition classified by muscle spasms and contractions. Although it cannot be cured, some remedies can help you control the symptoms. One treatment option is physical therapy. It can relieve symptoms and improve the quality of life. Physical therapy for dystonia focuses on exercises that can calm muscle spasms and enhance the range of motion.

The symptoms can range from mild to severe and may be intermittent or persistent. This disorder can lead to abnormal posture, twisting or repetitive movements, speech, vision, or swallowing problems if left untreated. The exact cause of this disorder is unknown; however, some cases may be triggered by emotional stress, an injury, or other damage to the nervous system. Here’s what you need to know about physical therapy for dystonia.

Types of Dystonia

There are many types of dystonia, and each type can cause different symptoms. Dystonia can be classified by:

  • Age of onset;
  • Body region affected;
  • Cause;
  • Pattern by muscle contractions.

It can be either static or progressive. Static dystonia means that the muscle contractions are constant and do not change over time. Progressive dystonia signifies that the muscle contractions gradually worsen over time. 

Types of dystonia

Some common physical therapy exercises for all types of dystonia may be recommended:

  • Stretching exercises. They can improve the range of motion and flexibility.
  • Strengthening exercises. They can enhance muscle control and lessen fatigue. 
  • Balance and coordination exercises. They can increase balance and coordination.

Isolated Dystonia

This type affects only one body part, such as the foot, arm, or face. It is a disorder marked by persistent or sporadic muscle spasms that cause aberrant, frequently repetitive postures and movements.  In some cases, medications may also be prescribed to relieve symptoms. Many people with isolated dystonia can live normal and active lives with treatment. Dystonia treatment physical therapy can consist of balance and coordination exercises. 

Generalized Dystonia

It is the most common type and can affect any body part. Symptoms typically begin in childhood or adolescence and may worsen over time.  Some suggested physical therapy exercises for generalized dystonia patients include:

  • Isometric exercises. They involve contracting the muscles without moving the joints.
  • Aerobic exercises. These exercises enhance the cardiovascular system and can reduce fatigue.

Focal Dystonia 

This type is a neurological movement disorder that causes involuntary muscle contractions and abnormal postures. The cause is unknown, but it is thought to be related to a problem in the brain circuits that control movement. The condition can affect any body part but most commonly affects the hands, neck, or face. It can make it difficult for everyday activities such as writing, typing, or using utensils. The best therapy exercises will vary depending on the individual’s specific condition and goals. 

However, the physical therapy exercises for dystonia include:

  • Balance exercises to help prevent falls.
  • Coordination exercises to enhance movement control.
  • Pilates may also be beneficial.

Cervical Dystonia

Cervical dystonia is a form of focal type. This neurological disorder affects the neck and shoulder muscles. The cause of this condition is unknown, but it is suspected to be due to a problem with the brain’s control of muscle movement. Symptoms can include muscle spasms, cramping, and pain in the neck and shoulders. These symptoms can vary from mild to severe and may come and go over time. 

All exercises for cervical dystonia must be strictly directed to correct the pathological position of the head and neck. Cervical dystonia physical therapy exercises can help to stretch and strengthen the affected muscles.

Segmental Dystonia 

It affects only certain muscles or body segments. It can be caused by damage to the nervous system, genetic factors, or other unknown factors. Symptoms can vary from mild to disabling. They may include muscle spasms, cramping, tremors, and weakness. In some cases, it can cause pain. 

It is recommended to do the range of motion exercises. These dystonia treatment physical therapies are designed to improve the range of motion in the affected muscles. 

Multifocal Dystonia

It affects multiple muscle groups in the body. It can be debilitating, making it difficult to perform everyday tasks. The cause is unknown, but it is believed to be due to a malfunction in the basal ganglia, a structure in the brain that helps control movement. Symptoms can vary from person to person but may include muscle spasms, cramps, and tremors. 

Physical therapy for multifocal dystonia can include aerobic exercises. These exercises can improve balance and coordination. 

Diagnosis and Treatment Of Dystonia

There are a few different ways that dystonia can be diagnosed. A thorough medical history and physical examination are usually the first steps. Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and when they began. A doctor will also want to know if this disorder runs in your family.

Several tests may be used to diagnose dystonia. They may include:

  • Blood tests: to rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms.
  • Imaging studies: such as MRI or CT scan, can detect other causes of your symptoms, such as a pinched nerve or tumor.
  • Electromyography (EMG): a test that measures the electrical activity of muscles to determine if dystonia is the cause of your symptoms.
  • Nerve conduction studies: a test that measures how well and fast nerves send electrical signals.

Diagnosis and treatment of dystonia

After all the tests have been done, your doctor can tell if the dystonia is the cause of your symptoms. Then treatment can be started. The treatment typically relieves symptoms and improves the quality of life. Standard dystonia treatment physical therapy includes:

  • Physical therapy exercises may stimulate muscle function.
  • Botulinum toxin injections can relieve muscle spasms. These injections help relax the muscles affected by this disorder.
  • Oral medications can reduce muscle spasms and pain.
  • Deep brain stimulation is a surgical procedure involving the implantation of a device that sends electrical signals to the brain to relieve symptoms.
  • In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to correct deformities or relieve pressure on the spinal cord or brain. 

Dystonia Treatment Physical Therapy

Dystonia treatment physical therapy

Dystonia physical therapy typically involves a combination of stretching, strengthening, and balance exercises. If you have dystonia, regular exercise is significant to help maintain muscle strength and flexibility. The goal of dystonia physical therapy is to:

  • Increase muscle control;
  • Reduce pain and discomfort;
  • Increase the range of motion;
  • Improve the quality of life;
  • Decrease stress and fatigue.

Swimming is a good option for dystonia physical therapy because it is a low-impact activity that does not put additional strain on the muscles. Yoga and Tai Chi are also good exercises for people with dystonia. These mind-body practices can improve focus and concentration and lessen stress and anxiety. It is vital to work with a physical therapist who is experienced in treating this condition, as they will be able to tailor an exercise program that is specific to your needs. A physical therapist can also teach you how to properly use assistive devices, such as splints or canes, if needed.

Dystonia treatment physical therapy is typically performed on an outpatient basis, which means you can attend therapy sessions while living at home. However, some people may require inpatient care if their symptoms are severe. 

A Word from Lone Star Neurology Doctors

With proper diagnosis and treatment, dystonia does not have to be a debilitating condition.

Physical therapy may be an option worth exploring if you live with dystonia. You can live a more active and healthy life and get relief from the dystonia symptoms with the aid of physical therapy. Our Lone Star Neurology specialists can help create a treatment plan that works for you


  • Can physical therapy help dystonia?

Physical therapy can be an effective treatment for dystonia, as it can help improve the range of motion and flexibility. Physical therapy may also help to reduce pain and discomfort associated with the condition. 

  • What is the best treatment for dystonia?

The best treatment for dystonia includes botulinum toxin injections, deep brain stimulation, and medication. In severe cases, surgery may also be an option. 

  • Does stretching help with dystonia?

Many people with dystonia find that regular stretching can help to reduce muscle tension and improve their range of motion.

  • What triggers dystonia?

Some common triggers include physical and emotional stress, an injury, or other damage to the nervous system.

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Edward Medina
Edward Medina
15:34 30 Jun 22
Just such an amazing staff that makes you feel like part of their family. I’ve been going there for over 5 years now... and each visit I get the very best care and treatments that I have ever received in the 20+ years that I’ve been dealing with severe debilitating migraines. Since i started seeing them the number of my migraines has dropped from 15-20 a month to 2-3 every 3 month. I highly recommend them …they will change your life!read more
Daneisha Johnson
Daneisha Johnson
22:20 19 May 22
Dr. Askari was very kind and explained everything so I could understand. The other staff were nice as well. I would... have gave 5 stars but I was a little taken aback when I checked in and had to pay 600.00 upfront. I think that should have been discussed in a appointment confirmation call or email just so I could have been more
Jean Cooper
Jean Cooper
16:54 29 Apr 22
I love the office staff they are friendly and very helpful. Dr. JODIE is very caring and understanding to your needs... and wants to help you. I will go back. would recommend Dr. Dr. Jodie to other Patients in a heart beat. The team works well more
Linda M
Linda M
19:40 02 Apr 22
I was obviously stressed, needing to see a neurologist. The staff was so patient and Dr. Ansari was so kind. At one... point he told me to relax, we have time, when I was relaying my history of my condition. That helped ease my stress. I have seen 3 other neurologists and he was the only one who performed any assessment tests on my cognitive and physical skills. At one point I couldn't complete two assessments and got upset and cried. I was told, it's OK. That's why you're here. I was truly impressed, and super pleased with the whole experience!read more
Leslie Durham
Leslie Durham
15:05 01 Apr 22
I've been coming here for about 5 years. The staff are ALWAYS friendly and knowledgeable. The Doctors are the absolute... best!! Jodie Moore is always in such a great mood which is a plus when you are already stressed. Highly recommendedread more
Monica Del Bosque
Monica Del Bosque
14:13 25 Mar 22
Since my first post my thoughts have changed here. It's unfortunate. My doctor and PA were great, but the office staff... is horrible. They never call you back when they say they will, they misinform you, they cause you too much stress wondering what's going on, they don't keep you posted. They never answer the phone. At this point I've left four messages in the last week, and I have sent three messages. Twice from their portal and one direct email. No response. My appointment is on Monday morning at 8:30am, no confirmation on my insurance and what's going on. What the heck is going on, this is ridiculous!I've given up... the stress her office staff has put me through is just not worth it. You can do so much better, please clean house, either change out your office staff, or find a way for them to be more efficient please. You have to do something. This is not how you want to run your practice. It leaves a very bad impression on your more
Ron Buckholz
Ron Buckholz
23:32 23 Mar 22
I was actually pleasantly surprised with this visit! It took me a long time to get the appointment scheduled because no... one answers your phones EVER! After a month, I finally got in, and your staff was warm, friendly, and I was totally impressed! I feel like you will take care of my needs!read more
Steve Nabavi
Steve Nabavi
16:28 16 Mar 22
It was a nice visit. Happy staff doing all they can do to comfort the patients in a very calming environment. You ask... me they are earned a big gold star on the fridge. My only complaint they didn't give me any more
Katie Lewis
Katie Lewis
16:10 10 Feb 22
Had very positive appointments with Jodie and Dr. Sheth for my migraine care. Jodie was so fast with the injections and... has so much valuable info. I started to feel light headed during checkout and the staff was SO helpful—giving me a chair, water, and taking me into a private room until I felt better. Highly recommend this practice for migraine patients, they know what they’re doing!!read more
Joshua Martinez
Joshua Martinez
16:02 10 Dec 21
I was scheduled to be checked and just want to say that the staff was fantastic. They were kind and helpful. I was... asked many questions related to what was going on and not once did I feel as though I was being brushed off. The front desk staff was especially great in assisting me. I'm scheduled to go back for a mri and am glad that I'll be going more
Isabel Ivy
Isabel Ivy
21:42 03 Nov 21
I had such a good experience with Lone Star Neurology, Brent my MRI Tech was so awesome and made sure I was very... comfortable during the appointment. He gave me ear plugs, a pillow, leg support and blanket, easiest MRI ever lol 🤣 My 72 hour EEG nurse Amanda was also so awesome. She made sure I was take care of over the 3 days and took her time with the electrodes to make sure it was comfortable for me! Paige was also a huge help in answering all my questions when it came to my test results, and letting me know her honest opinions about how I should go forth with my more
Leslie Luce
Leslie Luce
17:37 20 Oct 21
The professionalism and want to help attitude of this office was present from the moment I contacted them. The follow... up and follow through as well as their willingness to find a way to schedule my dad was above and beyond. We visited two offices in the same day with the same experience. I am appreciative of this—we spend a lot of time with doctors and this was top notch start to more
robert Parker
robert Parker
16:38 16 Apr 21
I love going to this office. The staff is friendly and helpful. The doctor is great. I am getting the best... neurological tests and treatment I have ever had. The only reason I did not give them a 5 star rating is because it is impossible to reach a live person at the office to reschedule appointments. Every time I have tried to get through to the office it says all people are busy and I am sent to a voicemail. If they could get their phone answering fixed, I would give them a strong 5 more
MaryAnn Hornbaker
MaryAnn Hornbaker
00:26 25 Feb 21
Dr. Harney is an excellent Dr. I found him friendly , personable and thorough. I evidently am an unusual case. ... Therefore he spent a Hugh amount of time educating me. He even gave me literature to further explain my condition and how to follow up. This is something you rarely get from your doctors. So I am more than please with my doctor and his more
Roger Arguello
Roger Arguello
03:05 29 Jan 21
Always courteous, professional. The staff is very friendly and always work with you to find the best appointment time.... The care team has been great. Always taking the time to listen to your concerns and to find the best more
Margaret Rowland
Margaret Rowland
01:12 27 Jan 21
I have been a patient at Lone Star Neurology for several years. Now both my adult daughters also are patients there. I... love Jodie. She is always so prompt whether it is a teleamed call are a visit in the office. She takes the time to explain everything to me and answers all my questions. I am so blessed to have Jodie as my more
Susan Miller
Susan Miller
03:01 13 Jan 21
My husband had an accident 5 years ago and Lone Star Neurology has been such a blessing to us with my husbands care.... Jodie Moore is his provider and she is amazing! Jodie is very knowledgeable, caring, and thorough. She takes her time with you, making sure your needs are met and she is happy to answer any questions you may have. Lone Star Neurology’s patients are very lucky to have Jodie providing their care. Thank you Lone Star Neurology and especially Jodie for everything you have done for us. Jodie, you are the best!read more
Windalyn C
Windalyn C
01:32 09 Jan 21
Jodie is wonderful. She is very caring and knowledgeable. I have been to over a dozen neurologists, and none were able... to help me as much as they have here. Thanks!read more
Katie Kordel
Katie Kordel
00:40 09 Jan 21
Jodi Moore, nurse practitioner, is amazing. I have suffered from frequent, debilitating headaches for almost 20 years.... She has provided the best proactive and responsive care I have ever received. My quality of life has been greatly improved by her caring approach and tenacity in finding more
Ellie Natsis
Ellie Natsis
15:41 07 Jan 21
I have had the best experience at this neurologist's office! For over a year I have been receiving iv treatments here... each month and my nurse, Bobbie is beyond wonderful!! She's so attentive, knowledgeable, caring, and detail oriented. She makes an otherwise uncomfortable experience much more pleasant and definitely puts me at ease! She also helps me with my insurance,ordering this specialty medication and dealing with the ordering process which is no easy feat.Needless to say, she goes above a beyond in every way and I'm so grateful to this office and to Bobbie for all they do for me!read more
Matt Morris
Matt Morris
15:39 07 Jan 21
Let me start by saying that I have been coming here for years. Due to my autoimmune disease, I am in this office... once every three weeks for multiple hours at a time. The office is very clean and the staff very friendly. My only complaint would be there communication via phone. They aren't the best at responding if you leave a voicemail and expect a call back. I understand that this is prob just due to the sheer number of alls they receive daily. What I can say I like the best about the office are the people. Bobby who handles my infusions is great. I never have any issues with her setting up my infusions. She is very quick to reply to messages sent via text and if she were to leave then my whole opinion of the office may change. I also enjoy people like Matt, Lauren, and Jodi. I appreciate all that they do for me and without this team I'm not sure I would be as happy as I am to visit the office as frequently as I have to. Please ensure that these folks are recognized as they are what makes my visit to this office so tolerable :).read more
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  1. 22/10/2023

    Very helpful!
    Great information on exactly what to work on with this challenge.

  2. 25/02/2024

    Informative……one of the best on exercise and dystonia.
    my PD dx 2007…..

    I find dystonia impacts are far
    More debilitating than the PD.

    Having been a fairly active PD Program exerciser (I find that I’ve had to back off doing exercises or break it up into smaller chunks now that dystonia is more prevalent

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