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Movement disorders: symptoms and treatments

There are several different types of movement disorders, including tremors, dystonia, bradykinesia, chorea, myoclonus, tics, ataxia, and restless legs syndrome. Each of these disorders affects the way a person moves in a unique way and can be caused by a variety of factors, including genetics, brain injury, and neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's disease.

What movement disorders are treated at St. Luke's Health?

  • Parkinson's disease: a neurodegenerative disorder that causes tremors, stiffness, and difficulty with movement.
  • Dystonia: a condition that causes involuntary muscle contractions, leading to twisting and repetitive movements or abnormal postures.
  • Essential tremor: a disorder characterized by uncontrollable shaking in the hands, head, or voice that worsens with movement.
  • Huntington's disease: a genetic disorder that causes uncontrolled movements, as well as cognitive and psychiatric symptoms.
  • Tourette syndrome: a condition that causes involuntary movements and vocalizations known as tics.
  • Restless legs syndrome: a neurological condition that causes uncomfortable sensations in the legs and an urge to move them.
  • Ataxia: a condition that affects coordination and balance, leading to difficulties with walking and other movements.
  • Chorea: a disorder characterized by involuntary, jerky movements that can affect the face, arms, and legs.
  • Myoclonus: a condition that causes involuntary jerking or twitching movements, often triggered by sudden movements or sounds.


What are the common symptoms of movement disorders?

The symptoms of movement disorders can vary depending on the specific type of disorder but may include:

  • Tremors or shaking
  • Stiffness or rigidity of the muscles
  • Difficulty initiating or controlling movement
  • Involuntary movements or spasms
  • Problems with coordination or balance
  • Slow movement (bradykinesia) or difficulty with fine motor skills
  • Jerky, uncontrolled movements (chorea or myoclonus)
  • Abnormal posture or gait
  • Difficulty speaking or swallowing
  • Pain or discomfort related to movement


In addition to these physical symptoms, movement disorders can also cause emotional and cognitive difficulties, such as depression, anxiety, and memory problems. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to consult with a neurologist for proper diagnosis and treatment.

What are the causes of movement disorders?

The causes of movement disorders can vary depending on the specific type of disorder. Some movement disorders are genetic, while others are caused by environmental factors or damage to the brain or nervous system. Here are some examples:

  • Genetic factors: Some movement disorders are caused by mutations in genes that affect the development or function of the nervous system, such as Huntington's disease.
  • Brain injury: Traumatic brain injury or other damage to the brain can result in movement disorders, such as dystonia.
  • Infection or inflammation: Some movement disorders can be triggered by infections or inflammatory conditions, such as encephalitis or multiple sclerosis.
  • Medications: Certain medications can cause movement disorders as a side effect, such as dopamine-blocking drugs used to treat psychiatric conditions.
  • Neurodegenerative diseases: Conditions such as Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease can cause movement disorders as they progress and damage the nervous system.
  • Exposure to toxins: Exposure to certain toxins, such as carbon monoxide or heavy metals, can cause movement disorders.
  • Unknown causes: In some cases, the cause of a movement disorder may be unknown.


How do you diagnose a movement disorder?

  • Medical history: Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms, when they started, and how they have progressed over time. They may also ask about any family history of movement disorders or other medical conditions.
  • Physical examination: Your doctor will perform a physical examination to assess your coordination, balance, and muscle tone. They may also check for tremors, stiffness, or other movement abnormalities.
  • Neurological examination: A neurological exam can help to identify the specific type of movement disorder and assess its severity. This may involve testing reflexes, muscle strength, and sensation.
  • Diagnostic testing: Additional tests may be ordered to help diagnose the movement disorder and rule out other conditions. This can include blood tests, brain imaging (such as MRI or CT scans), or nerve conduction studies.
  • Specialist referral: Depending on the suspected diagnosis, your doctor may refer you to a specialist such as a neurologist or movement disorder specialist for further evaluation and treatment.


How do you treat a movement disorder?

Our renowned team of experts offers the most advanced means of treating complex disorders of the nervous system and recovering lost function. As a pioneer in functional neurosurgery, we are dedicated to improving the quality of life for those with some of the most debilitating conditions. 

The treatment of a movement disorder depends on the specific type of disorder, its severity, and the individual's overall health. Here are some common approaches to treating movement disorders:

  • Medications are often used to manage symptoms of movement disorders. These can include medications to increase dopamine levels (such as levodopa for Parkinson's disease), muscle relaxants, or anti-seizure medications.
  • Physical therapy can help to improve muscle strength, flexibility, and coordination. This can be especially helpful for individuals with movement disorders that affect their ability to walk or perform daily activities.
  • Occupational therapy can help individuals with movement disorders to improve their ability to perform daily tasks, such as dressing, grooming, and eating.
  • Speech therapy can be beneficial for individuals with movement disorders that affect their ability to speak or swallow.
  • In some cases, surgery may be an option to treat a movement disorder. This can include deep brain stimulation (DBS) for Parkinson's disease or dystonia.
  • Lifestyle changes such as regular exercise, a healthy diet, and stress management can help to manage symptoms of movement disorders.

Treating movement disorders with deep brain stimulation

Movement disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, can turn daily activities into difficult tasks. Fortunately, there is a treatment option that can significantly reduce the associated motor symptoms. As one of the most advanced surgical treatment for movement disorders, deep brain stimulation (DBS) involves a high-frequency stimulation of targeted sections of the brain. By sending electrical pulses to the area of the brain associated with the disorder, patients can better control their symptoms. 

Our physicians at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center have performed more than 500 DBS implants, and our neurology team manages one of the largest groups of DBS patients. We use the latest intraoperative adjuncts, including microelectrode recording, intraoperative CT, and high-resolution 3T MRI, for the utmost precision.

Additional treatments for movement disorders

  • Microvascular decompression
  • Spinal cord stimulation
  • Intrathecal drug delivery
  • Stereotactic radiosurgery (Cyberknife and Gamma Knife)


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