What is Dystonia?

Dystonia is a neurological disorder of the brain that affects the control of muscles and movement. Faulty messages from the brain cause involuntary, sometimes painful, muscle contractions forcing the body into to awkward postures and repetitive movements.

There are different types of the condition. Focal dystonia, which only affects one part of the body, is the most common.

Other brain functions such as memory and intellect are not affected.

Who is affected?

It is estimated that at least 70,000 people in the UK have some form of dystonia.

Dystonia can affect children and adults. In children the disorder tends to become more generalised, affecting most of the body and is often genetic in origin. In adults the disorder remains focal.

People with conditions such as Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease may experience dystonia as a symptom of their condition.

What causes dystonia?

The exact cause of dystonia is unknown. It is thought that the condition is linked to damage of the part of the basal ganglia, clusters of nerve cells deep in the brain, but more research is needed

In some cases it is inherited but often the cause is not identified.

It can also be caused as a result of an underlying condition, such as a stroke or brain injury. This is known as secondary dystonia.

How we help

We have funded research to help understand the causes of dystonia and to devise treatments and possibly a cure including:

  • Research into childhood dystonia led by Dr Thomas Warner, Department of Clinical Neuroscience, UCL Institute of Neurology.