Massage as an effective method to manage symptoms of dystonia

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We have had some interesting cases in the last couple of weeks with clients suffering with dystonia, a movement disorder that is more common than you think.  

Helping clients become free from pain - even if it is only short term - is such a rewarding and satisfying experience we’d love to help more people who may be suffering with similar issues.  

Having a title like sports massage can often put people off coming to see us, but we are able to treat conditions such as dystonia gently with tools such as myofascial release, Swedish or deep tissue massage and assisted stretching such as Muscle Energy Technique (MET). These are all ways to gently address muscle tension.

What is dystonia?

Dystonia is a neurological movement disorder which basically means faulty signals from the brain cause muscles to spasm and pull on the body incorrectly. It can affect one muscle, a muscle group, or the entire body.

The Dystonia Society estimate that the disorder affects at least 70,000 people in the UK, women seem to be more prone to the condition than men.

What are the causes of dystonia?

Dystonia is thought to originate in part of the brain where nerve cells select muscles for movement. One theory is that these cells don’t get the balance quite right when selecting muscles, causing the involuntary movements.

The actual cause of dystonia is not fully understood, although genetics or pre-existing medical conditions and/or certain drug types are believed to be a factor.

Symptoms of dystonia

There many types of dystonia, and the condition affects people differently. Symptoms can range from the mild to severe.

Dystonia can be intensified or exacerbated by physical activity or stress. It can affect your whole body or just one part, and symptoms can start at any age. The resulting spasms - or tremors - can be painful, exhausting and debilitating.

Dystonia can also be a symptom or a sign of other conditions, including Parkinson’s disease. It’s always worth getting a doctors diagnosis if you suspect you may be suffering with dystonia.  

Types of dystonia

There are many types of dystonia. These include focal dystonias, multiple dystonias, acquired dystonias and functional dystonias. Different dystonias will affect different parts of the body to differing degrees, and individual dystonias all have their own names depending on the affected area.

Treatment to relieve symptoms 

There is not yet a cure for dystonia. Treatments are available such as drug prescriptions, botox injections, physiotherapy and massage to help manage the symptoms.

Most people do manage to develop successful strategies for living with dystonia, combining treatment with pain control and sensory tricks - for example, touching the affected area or nearby body part may reduce the muscular contractions and people can control their own contractions. Remission from symptoms does sometimes occur but is rare.

Our experience with helping manage symptoms of dystonia

Focal dystonia’s, which are the types that we have seen recently, are limited to specific parts of the body. Symptoms generally appear between the ages of 30 and 50 (except eye dystonia where they usually start between ages 50 and 70) although sometimes symptoms can appear earlier or later. Generally, focal dystonias starting in adulthood affect only one part of the body.  

The clients we have seen with dystonia have had what is known as a focal dystonia. This tends to be limited to a specific part of the body. The progress of focal dystonia can be unpredictable with symptoms varying from day to day. Typically, a focal dystonia will progress gradually over a five-year period and then progress no further.  Common focal dystonia’s can include the neck, eye, mouth, tongue or jaw, voice, or hands.

 For our clients, we have used myofascial release and deep tissue therapy to work through the tight tissues and help relieve some of their pain and discomfort, and we’ve found this to be an effective method.  

Massage can also help our clients with their mental health. It can be incredibly stressful living with movement disorders. One hour sessions allow enough time to allow the body to ‘relax and let go’. Regular monthly massages are a great way to help manage this condition, alongside any prescribed medications.

If you have any questions or experience similar symptoms and would like to try massage please give us a call, email us or book in.

More information about dystonia

The Dystonia Society 

The Dystonia Foundation