Focal dystonia is an irregular movement disorder specific to one part of the body. In dystonia, muscle contractions cause irregular movements, twitches, tics, and twisted or repetitive postures which may be sustained or intermittent.

Focal dystonia can be treated. If you suspect you have this condition, contact your doctor.

The most common types of focal dystonia are:

  • Blepharospasm (an eye twitch)—affecting the eyes
  • Cervical dystonia or spasmodic torticollis—affecting the neck
  • Segmental cranial dystonia (Meige syndrome)—affecting the jaw, tongue and eyes
  • Oromandibular dystonia—affecting the jaw
  • Spasmodic dysphonia—affecting the vocal cords
  • Axial dystonia—affecting the trunk
  • Dystonia of the arm (eg, writer's cramp)


Dystonias are caused by an abnormality in the basal ganglia of the brain, which is where messages that initiate muscle contractions are processed. Factors that may cause focal dystonia include:

  • Birth injury (eg, lack of oxygen)
  • Infection
  • Reactions to medications
  • Heavy metal poisoning
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Trauma
  • Stroke
  • Other diseases
  • Inherited abnormalities of the basal ganglia
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency

The Process of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Decreasing Available Oxygen

Carbon monoxide poisoning
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.

Risk Factors

The following factors increase your chance of developing focal dystonia. If you have any of these risk factors, tell your doctor:

  • Family history of dystonia
  • Recent exposure to an antinausea or antipsychotic medication


If you experience any of these symptoms do not assume focal dystonia is the cause. These symptoms may be attributed to other, less serious health conditions. If you experience any one of them, see your doctor.

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


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. Your doctor may refer you to a speech-language pathologist, physical or occupational therapists, and/or genetic counselors.

Tests may include the following:

  • A careful family history
  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Cerebrospinal fluid tests
  • Genetic tests
  • Electromyography —to determine the health of the muscles and nerves
  • Electroencephalography —a test that records the brain’s activity by measuring electrical currents through the brain, used to detect or rule out seizures
  • Skin, muscle, and/or nerve tissue biopsies
  • Eye examination
  • Neurologic evaluation—to rule out other neurological disorders
  • MRI scan —a test that uses magnetic waves to make pictures of structures inside the head
  • CT scan —a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of structures inside the head


© 2009 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.


Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include the following:


Certain medications may help correct imbalances in neurotransmitters. Medications used to treat dystonia include:

Anticonvulsant medications may also help people with dystonia. Since these medications are associated with certain side effects, your doctor will balance treating your symptoms with reducing the risk of side effects.

Botulinum Toxin Injections

Injecting botulinum toxin (eg, botox) directly into the muscles affected by dystonia can weaken the muscle. This may help improve symptoms of dystonia for 3-4 months.


Surgery to cut the nerves leading to muscles affected by dystonia or removing the muscles altogether may help reduce dystonic muscle contractions. In addition, surgery to destroy the small area within the brain that dystonia originates from may successfully stop or reduce the disorder. More recently, some success has been reported using surgically implanted deep brain stimulation to reduce symptoms of dystonia.

Factors that may worsen dystonia include:

  • Excitement or agitation
  • Stress
  • Talking
  • Fatigue


There is no known way of preventing focal dystonia. To help reduce your chances of getting this condition, take steps to reduce your risk of infection, stroke, trauma, and carbon monoxide or heavy metal poisoning. In addition, if you take any of the following medications, talk with your doctor about your risk of developing dystonia as a side effect: