Treating Dystonia: Neuroscience Leads The Way

Improved motor control after treatment (with patient’s permission).

Findings from the neuroscience community are unraveling the cause of dystonia and providing novel treatment options for this movement disorder. Originally thought to be a muscle disorder, recent research has demonstrated that patients suffering from dystonia, as well as their healthy relatives, have deficits in the sensory portion of the nervous system.

Before we discuss the importance of this finding, we need to talk about a curious phenomena seen commonly in dystonia patients; the “Sensory Trick.”

The sensory trick (touching the chin is a common trick used by dystonic patients), magically, but temporarily, relieves abnormal muscle function in dystonic muscles. Neuroscience research suggests that the sensory trick alleviates the symptoms of dystonia by restoring normal nervous system function. This is an exciting discovery! It suggests that the sensory trick might enhance rehabilitation exercises in patients suffering from dystonia.

The take home message is that the sensory trick is evolving from a curiosity of dystonia to a potential rehabilitation tool.