Focal Dystonia

Focal dystonia is an irregular movement disorder specific to one part of the body. In dystonia, muscle contractions cause irregular movements, twitches and twisted or repetitive postures. These may be continuous or off and on. The most common types of focal dystonia are:

  • Blepharospasm — an eye twitch
  • Cervical dystonia or spasmodic torticollis that affect the neck
  • Segmental cranial dystonia, also known as Meige syndrome, which affects the jaw, tongue and eyes
  • Oromandibular dystonia, which affects the jaw
  • Spasmodic dysphonia, which affects the vocal cords
  • Axial dystonia, which affects the trunk
  • Dystonia of the hand/arm, such as writer's cramp

Causes of Focal Dystonia

In many cases, the cause of primary dystonia is not known. In others, it may be genetic.

An existing health condition, injury or genetic disorder can cause secondary dystonia. Some of these include:

  • Birth injury, such as lack of oxygen
  • Infection
  • Reactions to medication
  • Heavy metal poisoning
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Trauma
  • Stroke
  • Other diseases

Common Symptoms 

Symptoms may include:

  • Rapid or uncontrollable blinking of both eyes
  • Neck twisting
  • Difficulty writing
  • Foot cramps
  • Pulling or dragging of a foot
  • Tremor
  • Voice or speech difficulties

Factors that may worsen dystonia include:

  • Excitement or agitation
  • Stress
  • Talking
  • Fatigue

Diagnosing Focal Dystonia

Your doctor may perform a complete neurologic exam and an eye exam. You may also see a speech-language pathologist, physical or occupational therapists and/or genetic counselors.

Diagnostic tests may include:

  • Blood tests
  • Genetic tests
  • Biopsy

Your doctor may need to measure the electrical activity of your muscles, nerves and brain. This can be done with:

  • Electromyography
  • Nerve conduction study
  • Electroencephalography

Your doctor may also need to take pictures with:

  • MRI scan
  • CT scan

Treatment Options for Focal Dystonia

Your doctor may recommend specific medications to help ease your symptoms. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you.  

Botulinum Toxin Injections

Your doctor may inject botulinum toxin directly into the muscles affected by dystonia. This weakens the muscle and may help improve symptoms for 3-4 months.


You may benefit from a type of surgery that destroys or disrupts a small area within the brain that dystonia occurs. This may help stop or reduce your symptoms.

Deep brain stimulation can also help to reduce symptoms of dystonia.

Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.