Movement disorders

What are movement disorders?

“Movement disorder” is a term that describes a collection of related disorders that are characterized by excess or unwanted movement, or which affect your child’s coordination.

The brain is the command center for the body and has a complex electrical system for translating our thoughts into actions. In order for movements to be smooth and precise, the brain and the parts it moves must be in harmony, with clear communication.

Sometimes these messages become garbled or aren’t sent or received properly, which results in uncoordinated movements. This may be the result of a disease or injury to the parts of the brain that control movement.

Movement disorders are not the same as epilepsy or as neuromuscular disorders. As children grow, it is normal for their movements to become less coordinated as their brains learn to move their changing bodies. However, movement disorders go beyond normal childhood klutziness. It is important that these problems be treated early so that they do not cause an irreversible breakdown of nerves or cause your child unnecessary pain and loss of confidence.

Some warning signs of movement disorders

  • Loose or floppy muscles
  • Uncontrolled muscle tightening or cramping
  • Uncontrolled twisting
  • Unwanted movements (slow, rapid or patterned)
  • Unable to move as desired
  • Blinking
  • Tiredness
  • Anxiety
  • Injury to the movement centers of the brain

Movement disorders we treat 

The neurologists in Children’s Tone Management and Mobility Program work closely with physical therapists and rehabilitation physicians (called physiatrists) to care for your child’s movement condition with expertise and sensitivity.

Our specialists treat the full range of movement disorders, including:

  • Abnormal movements – unwanted movements
  • Ataxia – major incoordination of movements
  • Chorea – rapid involuntary movement
  • Conversion disorder (psychogenic movements) – unwanted movement that is the result of a psychological problem
  • Dystonia – twisting movements
  • Huntington’s disease – progressive disease that gets worse as nerves breakdown
  • Metabolic movement disorders – any movement disorder that is related to how the body makes or uses energy
  • Muscle spasms without weakness
  • Myoclonus – brief twitching
  • Parkinsonism – progressive disease that gets worse as nerves breakdown
  • Rigidity – muscles become inflexible
  • Tardive dyskinesia – difficult to treat, slow and repeated unwanted movements
  • Tics and Tourette syndrome – repeated movements that are compulsive and follow a specific pattern
  • Tone problems and spasticity – muscles are too loose or ridged and may jerk
  • Tremors – unwanted quivering of muscles

Diagnosis & treatment

After we evaluate your child’s medical history we conduct a physical examination and test reflexes. Genetic testing, as well as cerebrospinal fluid analysis may be used to confirm a suspected diagnosis.

Depending on the specifics of your child’s condition and your wishes, a variety of treatments may be recommended. If your child’s movement disorder requires orthopedic bracing or bone surgery, we may use physical therapy and rehabilitation or orthopedic surgery.

If your child’s condition is related to brain activity, our neurosurgeons may perform a selective dorsal rhizotomy, which destroys parts of the brain delivering faulty messages. Another option that we offer is placing an intrathecal baclofen pump in your child that delivers a muscle relaxant (as needed) directly to the fluid surrounding the spinal cord.

We also offer additional treatments such as Botox and phenol injections, psychological counseling, and have a wide variety of equipment that will improve your child’s mobility and allow him or her to build their confidence through independent movement.