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Can dystonia be cured?

Updated: Nov 26, 2021

Can dystonia be cured? It depends on what you mean by "cured"! Many of those who ask this question have in mind the kind of cure that is used, for example, to treat an infection: your tonsils are swollen, you get an antibiotic prescription, and the bacteria causing your pain are killed. End of story. In this sense, there is no magic pill.

In general, nothing that is done to a dystonia patient (with the exception perhaps of Deep Brain Stimulation, DBS, which invasive and is still poorly understood) seems to help them recover function.

What does work is what is done by the person suffering from dystonia to actively recover.

How is this done? In order to answer this question, we need to first come up with a better definition of dystonia. Rather than just a "movement disorder in which a person's muscles contract uncontrollably" (WebMD), the following is a much better definition: dystonia is a dysfunctional pattern in the use of muscles in which certain neural pathways are overused and others are avoided; such a pattern is learned and adopted by the brain because of physical or psychological trauma, anatomical anomalies or other reasons.

In short, dystonia recovery involves unlearning this pattern and learning a more functional one. This requires several steps:

(1) Understanding which parts of the nervous system are affected, and in which way. Which neural pathways are being overused and which muscles are hypertonic? Which, on the other hand, are being avoided and are hypotonic?

(2) Gently stimulating the 'forgotten' nerves so that the brain can reconnect to them and let go of the overused ones; and

(3) Integrating the newly reconnected parts of the nervous system into functional patterns in movement, speech, rest and other bodily functions as needed.

At Hope for Dystonia, we do this using the M.A.P.S. method: Mindfulness, Awakening nerves, neuroPlasticity and Self-compassion. Click on "How to Recover" on the menu bar to learn more about the M.A.P.S. method.

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