What Are Movement Disorders?

What Are Movement Disorders?

As their name implies, movement disorders cause abnormal movements in the body. They originate in the nervous system and lead to either a decreased amount of movements (called hypokinetic syndrome), as in Parkinson's disease, or an increased amount of movements (called hyperkinetic syndrome) movements, as with essential tremor, tics, or Huntington’s disease.

Types of Movement Disorders


There are several types of movement disorders, which differ in their causes and the way they affect the body:

  • Ataxia involves a progressive loss of balance and impairment of gait (walking), along with limb coordination and speech problems.
  • Akathisia involves a feeling of restlessness and an inability to be still.
  • Blepharospasm refers to uncontrollable eye closure.
  • Chorea is a movement disorder characterized by repetitive, brief, irregular, and involuntary movements, which typically involve the face, mouth, trunk, and limbs. Chorea can look like fidgeting.
  • Corticobasal degeneration (CBD) syndrome is a rare condition characterized by poor coordination, stiffness, difficulty thinking, and trouble with speech or language. It generally affects one side of the body.
  • Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) is a condition characterized by progressive decline in mental abilities and is often associated with features of Parkinson’s disease.
  • Dystonia is a movement disorder that causes involuntary sustained muscle contraction.
  • Essential tremor (ET) and other forms of tremor involve involuntary and rhythmic shaking. This mainly affects the hands and neck and is most often bilateral and symmetric.
  • Functional movement disorders refer to conditions that may resemble any of the movement disorders that are caused by an abnormality in how the brain functions, not by identifiable structural damage in the brain.
  • Hemifacial spasm and other facial abnormal movements are caused by a disorder that makes the facial muscles twitch.
  • Huntington’s disease is an inherited, progressive neurological disease characterized by the triad of chorea, cognitive problems, and psychiatric problems.
  • Multiple system atrophy is a rare, progressive neurological disorder affecting many areas of the brain typically characterized by the association of Parkinsonism (a general term for stiffness, tremor, poor balance, and paucity of movement), poor coordination, and changes in blood pressure and bladder control.
  • Myoclonus involves sudden, brief involuntary twitching or jerking of a muscle or group of muscles.
  • Normal pressure hydrocephalus is a neurological condition characterized by the triad of gait difficulty (magnetic gait, an inability to lift the feet off the floor), change in bladder control, and memory decline. It is due to a buildup of fluids in the cavity of the brain.
  • Parkinson’s disease is a common, slowly progressive disease characterized mainly by tremor, muscle stiffness, slow or decreased movement, and imbalance. It is often associated with non-motor symptoms such as reduced sense of smell, constipation, acting out dreams, and a decline in cognition.
  • Parkinsonism is a general term for stiffness, tremor, poor balance, and paucity of movement. Parkinson’s disease and certain medications that interfere with the brain chemical dopamine are the most common causes. Other causes include multiple system atrophy and progressive supranuclear palsy.
  • Progressive supranuclear palsy is a rare progressive neurological disorder that causes problems with walking, balance, and eye movements. It resembles Parkinson’s disease but is a distinct condition.
  • Restless legs syndrome (RLS) results in the uncontrollable urge to move the legs.
  • Stereotypies refer to movement disorders characterized by simple, repetitive, rhythmic movements such as hand waving, body rocking, or head banging. Stereotypies in young children may be normal, but they can also be associated with autism spectrum disorder and a number of developmental disorders.
  • Tardive dyskinesia is a movement disorder characterized by involuntary and repetitive movements, most often of the face and neck, such as grimacing and eye blinking. This is typically associated with the chronic use of neuroleptics, drugs prescribed to treat psychiatric conditions.
  • Tourette’s syndrome and other tic disorders cause repetitive involuntary movements (such as eye blinking, facial grimacing, or shoulder shrugging) or vocalizations (such as throat clearing, coughing, barking, or grunting).
  • Wilson's disease is a rare, inherited disorder that causes excessive amounts of copper to build up in the body, causing neurological problems, dystonia, tremor, Parkinsonism, or ataxia.

Signs & Symptoms of Movement Disorders


The symptoms of movement disorders depend on the type of underlying disease and may include:

  • Clumsiness and other problems with coordination
  • Jerky movements of the arms, legs, and, in severe cases, the entire body
  • Shaking or twitching
  • Pulling of the head to one side
  • Speech difficulties
  • Difficulty walking
  • Excessive fidgeting
  • Facial grimacing
  • Excessive eye blinking
  • Cognitive problems, such as being unable to complete a sequence of tasks
  • Emotional changes, such as depression and anxiety


What Causes Movement Disorders?


Movement disorders are caused by damage to specific regions of the brain that are implicated in the modulation of motor functions, which are distinct from those areas that control motor functions. In many cases, the cause of a person’s movement disorder cannot be identified. In other cases, a movement disorder may be caused by:

  • Genetics. Huntington’s disease is caused by a mutation in a gene. Some cases of Parkinson’s disease or dystonia may be genetic. Wilson’s disease is a rare, inherited disorder that causes too much copper to build up in the body and results in problems with movement.
  • Medications. Some medications cause side effects such as tremors or involuntary movements including Parkinsonism.
  • Infections. Ataxia may be a complication of some infections.
  • Stroke or head injury can cause Parkinsonism.
  • Toxins can cause some movement disorders.
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Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for Movement Disorder Care

The Parkinson’s Disease and Other Movement Disorders Center at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University is one of the world-premiere centers for clinical care and research in movement disorders.

NewYork-Presbyterian’s movement disorder specialists are experts at diagnosing the cause of your symptoms and matching you with effective treatments to minimize the effect on your health and maximize your quality of life. Make an appointment to see one of our doctors.