What are dystonias?

sad woman photo
Photo by TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³

Severe mental illness can be one of the most difficult situations for both the victim and the family to cope with. There are a host of issues including problems with medication and side effects. Do you know someone suffering from schizophrenia or taking strong psychotropic medications? Most individuals with schizophrenia and other severe mental illnesses must take anti-psychotic medications that can result in involuntary movements of the muscles, repetitive movements (such as “pill rolling” – a tremor of the hands), and abnormal postures (i.e., catatonia – abnormal physical immobility). 

Dystonias may be painful and often include other neurological impairments or abnormal postures and tremors. Unfortunately, doctors are unsure of what causes dystonias exactly, but have identified a few possible causes. Dystonias can result from medication (primarily anti-psychotic medications), poor or altered nerve cell communication (when nerves have a hard time communicating, different functions in the body can function differently), genetics (sometimes dystonias can be inherited. Changes in genes can lead to dystonias. As you age, many things change within your body and cell structure.), medical and neurological conditions such as:

  1. Parkinson’s Disease
  2. Huntington’s Disease
  3. Traumatic brain injury
  4. stroke
  5. oxygen deprivation to the brain
  6. infections such as tuberculosis (TB)
  7. Carbon monoxide poisoning

And let’s not forget that some medications for severe mental illness may result in rigid body postures, catatonia, or tremors.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, there are 5 classifications of dystonias that include:

  1. Generalized: affects most or all of the body.
  2. Focal: is localized to a specific part of the body.
  3. Multifocal: involves two or more unrelated body parts.
  4. Segmental: affects two or more adjacent parts of the body.
  5. Hemidystonia: involves the arm and leg on the same side of the body.


It’s really difficult to conceptualize what this neurological disorder is until you actually have someone explain it to you or you have the opportunity to observe someone with the disorder.

Video: What dystonia is and what neurologists know about it: 


You might be asking yourself: “why is this an important topic for a mental health site? Well, it is important that parents, families, and caregivers including friends understand dystonias and the symptoms that can occur because the field of psychiatry has a long history with treating severe tremors. When an individual with a mental health condition takes medication that doesn’t agree with their neurological makeup, it is important to be able to identify when a medication is causing more harm than good. If you notice rigid body posture, tremors, changed mood, irritability, and other symptoms uncharacteristic of the person, I encourage you to contact their doctor and report symptoms. You may also be able to suggest a different medication or treatment for the tremors. You may also want to pursue medical advice to rule out Parkinson’s disease or other medical conditions of this nature.


The following video shows how kids are affected by dystonias:

As always, stay informed!

I wish you the best