What is Torsion Dystonia?

Malcolm Tatum

Torsion dystonia is a condition that involves muscle contractions that are often extremely painful. The severity of the contractions is usually enough to cause distortions in the arms and legs. Generally, the condition begins with mild symptoms that appear to be nothing more than temporary muscle fatigue and incrementally worsen over a period of time. If left untreated, the contractions will eventually spread to other parts of the body.

Surgery is a final option in the ongoing treatment of torsion dystonia.
Surgery is a final option in the ongoing treatment of torsion dystonia.

The origins of idiopathic torsion dystonia are generally considered genetic. Due to a mutation, the body does not produce glutamic acid, an essential amino acid that is aids in the proper transmission between the neurons that help regulate muscle control and movement. Without the presence of this important amino acid, the involuntary contractions common to genetic torsion dystonia begin to develop over time, eventually becoming debilitating.

Oral medication may help ease aches and pains associated with dystonia.
Oral medication may help ease aches and pains associated with dystonia.

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Trauma can also lead to the development of this condition. Damage sustained in an accident or constant stress to the joints and muscles may serve as the trigger for the onset of torsion dystonia. Even something as simple as the constant use of the hands in typing or writing for long periods can lead to one of the milder forms of this condition, commonly known as writer’s cramp.

Severe cases or torsion dystonia may require the use of a wheelchair.
Severe cases or torsion dystonia may require the use of a wheelchair.

Children are more likely to experience torsion dystonia just before the advent of the teenage years. Most cases involved children occur around the ages of eleven or twelve. From the first mild contractions, the disease can develop into one of several different types, each affecting a different part of the body.

A person experiencing muscle contractions in the legs may have difficulty standing unassisted.
A person experiencing muscle contractions in the legs may have difficulty standing unassisted.

Early onset torsion dystonia begins with twinges and minor cramps in the arms or legs. Over time, the pain becomes harder to ignore and occurs with greater frequency. Unless treatment is administered, the condition can become so dire that confinement to a wheelchair is the only option.

While there is no cure for torsion dystonia, physical therapy may help some patients regain muscle control.
While there is no cure for torsion dystonia, physical therapy may help some patients regain muscle control.

While there is no cure for torsion dystonia, there are several common approaches to dealing with the condition. Physical therapy can be used to regain some control over the body and minimize the impact of the contractions. Often, the therapy is combined with medication. The medication helps to ease the aches and pains associated with the dystonia, as well as alleviate some of the anxiety that is common to people suffering with this type of health issue.

Injections of botulinum toxin can also help block neurotransmitters that are creating the contractions. While not directly addressing the underlying cause for the disease, the injections do help to alleviate pain and make it easier to live with the disease. Generally, injections are not utilized until physical therapy and oral medication becomes ineffective in managing the torsion dystonia.

Surgery is a final option in the ongoing treatment of torsion dystonia. This solution is rarely utilized unless all other options have ceased to provide any degree of relief. The exact type of surgical procedure will depend on the location of the contractions and how those contractions are impacting the surrounding organs.

Early onset torsion dystonia begins with minor cramps in the legs.
Early onset torsion dystonia begins with minor cramps in the legs.

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