Symptoms of Dystonia

Symptoms of dystonia vary, depending on which type a person has. The symptoms can mimic the symptoms of other conditions, and can also be signs of other conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease. Generalized dystonia, which is more common in children than adults, causes symptoms throughout the entire body; focal dystonia is limited to just a part of the body.

Early symptoms, which start off mildly at first and progress, can include:

  • Abnormal posturing and movement (dragging of the foot when walking, curled hand, eye spasms, and other similar problems)
  • Muscle cramping and pain
  • Involuntary movements
  • Loss of precision control of muscles (such as penmanship)
  • Trembling of certain muscles

Early-onset dystonia usually begins with symptoms occurring in the limbs and progressing on to other areas of the body. Adult-onset dystonia usually occurs in the face or neck, and can progress to other areas of the body.

The location of dystonia within the body is also categorized:

  • Generalized dystonia affects most or all of the body.
  • Focal dystonia involves only a specific part of the body.
  • Multifocal dystonia involves two or more isolated body parts.
  • Segmental dystonia affects two or more adjacent parts of the body.
  • Hemidystonia involves the arm and leg on the same side of the body.

The initial symptoms are often so mild that people dismiss or ignore them. Symptoms can worsen over time, and are often exacerbated by stress or anxiety. Quality of life can be greatly affected, depending on the location of symptoms. It is important to be treated as soon as possible by a trained specialist, to reap the benefits of early intervention.

Find out more about the Movement Disorders service and the Pediatric NeuroMotor Disorders Program at the Weill Cornell Brain and Spine Center, or use our online form to request an appointment.

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Our Care Team

  • Executive Vice Chair, Neurological Surgery
  • Professor of Neurological Surgery
  • Director, Movement Disorders and Pain
  • Director, Residency Program
Phone: 212-746-4966
  • Vice Chair for Academic Affairs
  • Professor of Neurological Surgery, Pediatric Neurosurgery
  • Associate Residency Director
Phone: 212-746-2363
  • Victor and Tara Menezes Clinical Scholar in Neuroscience
  • Associate Professor of Neurological Surgery in Pediatrics
Phone: 212-746-2363
  • Associate Professor of Clinical Neurological Surgery
Phone: 718-780-5176

Reviewed by Michael Kaplitt, M.D., Ph.D.
Last reviewed/last updated: April 2022

Weill Cornell Medicine Neurological Surgery 525 East 68 Street, Box 99 New York, NY 10065 Phone: 866-426-7787