Dystonia is a group of movement disorders, all of which are characterized by uncontrolled and sustained muscle contraction. This can result in the twisting of body parts, repetitive movements, or unusual and uncomfortable postures. The condition has many causes, ranging from hereditary defects to trauma, infection and toxins. Some of these causes are induced by pharmaceuticals and are reversible. However, most cases are permanent and incurable, meaning treatment focusses on dealing with the symptoms and any triggers that set off the symptoms.
Almost any muscle in the body can be affected by dystonia, and several forms of the condition can affect large groups of muscles or even most of the body's muscles. However, most are limited to a single muscle or closely related group of muscles and are classified as "focal". "Segmental" forms affect one side of the body, or all the muscles generally. There are twenty different forms of the disorder that have been clearly linked to a genetic cause.
The condition is difficult to diagnose because it often resembles many other disorders that cause muscular-skeletal pain or uncontrolled movement. Individuals with dystonia in the wrist, for example, may be diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome, while someone whose arm shakes uncontrollably may be diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.
Although several triggers of the condition are known, the etiology of the disorder are poorly understood. This makes a cure impossible and treatment very difficult. Physiotherapy is often used, but it's effectiveness is questionable. In most cases, a physician will prescribe a series of pharmaceuticals until a combination is found that lessens the symptoms.