UVM Medical Center - South Prospect, Burlington

Neurology - 1 South Prospect Street

 (802) 847-2461

1 South Prospect Street
Arnold, Level 2
Burlington, VT 05401-5505

Monday: 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Tuesday: 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Wednesday: 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Thursday: 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Friday: 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM

Dystonia is a group of brain (neurological) conditions that cause involuntary muscle contractions, which force the body into abnormal, sometimes painful, movements and positions. That's why dystonia is considered a type of movement disorder.

The UVM Medical Center's neurology team treats neurological disorders with a multidisciplinary approach, providing patients with compassionate support alongside effective treatment.

Dystonia Care at UVM Medical Center

Our goal is to help you and your family understand your condition and take effective steps to treat it.

  • Comprehensive Expertise - Complex neurological conditions are best treated by bringing together teams of professionals that span multiple areas of medicine - from neurologists and neurosurgeons, to neuroradiologists and rehabilitation providers. Our team approach brings to your care individuals with diverse medical training who are all dedicated to providing you with the most comprehensive treatment possible.
  • Support services - Because neurological conditions often involve unique challenges for patients and their loved ones, we offer support services personalized to the individual needs of each patient such as counseling, rehabilitation and pain management.
  • Compassionate environment - While our staff includes multiple specialists who are nationally renowned for their accomplishments, you will find your caregivers to be approachable and caring to you and your loved ones.
  • Cutting-edge research - As a university hospital, the care we provide is informed and enhanced by education and research, the latest knowledge and techniques and advanced technology. You can be confident that your doctors are providing the most up-to-date treatments, including deep brain stimulation.

Dystonia: An Overview

Dystonia causes uncontrollable twisting or repetitive movements of one or more affected body parts. Affected muscles typically include the neck (cervical dystonia), torso, arms and legs, hands, eyes, face, vocal chords, and/or a combination of these muscle groups. Dystonia may be focal (affecting an isolated body part), segmental (affecting adjacent body areas), or generalized (affecting many major muscle groups simultaneously).

Dystonia symptoms range from mild to severe and even may interfere with your everyday tasks. Symptoms may:

  • Include involuntary muscle contractions, such as cervical dystonia where the contractions cause your head to twist and turn to one side, or pull forward or backward, sometimes painfully
  • Begin in a single area, such as your neck, hand or foot
  • Occur during a specific action, such as handwriting
  • Worsen with stress, anxiety or fatigue
  • Become more noticeable or worsen over time

There are many different causes of dystonia including genetic and non-genetic factors.

Diagnosis for Dystonia

Sometimes dystonia may be a symptom of another disorder or condition such as Huntington's disease. An accurate and thorough diagnosis is important to guide your treatment plan effectively.

The University of Vermont Medical Center's neurologists and neuroradiologists are specially trained in advanced technology to diagnose dystonia. Tests may include:

  • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan, which uses magnets and radio waves to take images of the brain. An MRI can help us rule out other causes of your symptoms.
  • CT or CAT Scan (Computed Tomography), which is a very detailed x-ray that can create 3D images of the inside of the body, including the brain.
  • EMG (Electromyography) is a test measuring your muscles' electrical activity.
  • Blood or urine tests help your doctor determine your dystonia is not due to toxin exposure such as lead or carbon monoxide poisoning.

Treatments for Dystonia

For some patients, medications improve their dystonia symptoms. In more severe cases, surgery may be an option to disable or regulate certain brain regions or nerves. Dystonia cannot be cured, but treatment can improve some of your symptoms.

At the UVM Medical Center, we provide treatment options that are rooted in research and the most advanced technologies. Dystonia treatment options at The University of Vermont Medical Center include:

  • Dystonia medications - Some forms of dystonia, particularly those diagnosed early, respond to medications. Those may include:
    • Botox (Botulinum Toxin) - Botox injections into certain muscles may reduce or eliminate your muscle contractions. Botox lasts about three months before you need another injection. Botox has some side effects, but they are generally mild.
    • Oral medications - There are quite a few oral medications for dystonia treatment. Most act on neurotransmitters involved with muscle movement.
  • Deep brain stimulation for dystonia - DBS is surgical implantation that uses electrical pulses to your brain to help control your muscle contractions. Neurosurgeons begin by implanting electrodes into a certain part of your brain. The electrodes are connected to a generator implanted in your chest that sends the electrical pulses to your brain. DBS settings may be adjusted as necessary for your specific condition.
  • Dystonia therapy - Various forms of therapy may improve your symptoms, such as:
    • Physical therapy - Because dystonia is a neurological disorder, physical therapy cannot treat dystonia. However, therapy may help address some of the secondary issues related to the condition.
    • Speech therapy - In conjunction with other treatments, speech therapy may help patients address impacts of dystonia on their speech.
    • Sensory trick - People with dystonia may reduce their muscle contractions by touching the affected body part.