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Movement - uncontrollable

Uncontrollable movements include many types of movements that you cannot control. They can affect the arms, legs, face, neck, or other parts of the body.

Examples of uncontrollable movements are:

  • Loss of muscle tone (flaccidity)
  • Slow, twisting, or continued movements (chorea, athetosis, or dystonia)
  • Sudden jerking movements (myoclonus, ballismus)
  • Uncontrollable repetitive movements (asterixis or tremor)

Causes

There are many causes of uncontrolled movements. Some movements last only a short time. Others are due to a permanent condition of the brain and spinal cord and may get worse.

Some of these movements affect children. Others affect only adults.

Causes in children:

Causes in adults:

  • Nervous system diseases that are getting worse
  • Genetic disorder
  • Medicines 
  • Stroke or brain injury
  • Tumors

Home Care

Physical therapy that includes swimming, stretching, walking, and balancing exercises can help with coordination and slow the damage.

Family support is important. It helps to openly discuss your feelings. Self-help groups are available in many communities.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if you have any unexplained movements that you cannot control and that do not go away.

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

The health care provider will perform a physical exam and ask about your symptoms and medical history. You will have a detailed examination of both the nervous and muscle systems.

Medical history questions may include:

  • Are there muscle contractions that may be causing the abnormal posture?
  • Are the arms affected?
  • Are the legs affected?
  • When did this movement begin?
  • Did it occur suddenly?
  • Has it been getting worse slowly over weeks or months?
  • Is it present all the time?
  • Is it worse after exercise?
  • Is it worse when you are stressed?
  • Is it better after sleep?
  • What makes it better?
  • What other symptoms are present?

Tests that may be ordered include:

Treatment

Treatment depends on the cause. Many uncontrollable movements are treated with medicines. Some symptoms may improve on their own. Your health care provider will make recommendations based on your signs and symptoms.

Alternative Names

Uncontrolled movements; Involuntary body movements; Body movements - uncontrollable; Dyskinesia; Athetosis; Myoclonus; Ballismus

References

Jankovic J, Lang AE. Movement disorders: diagnosis and assessment. In: Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, eds. Bradley’s Neurology in Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 21.

Lang AE. Other movement disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman’s Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 417.

Update Date: 2/23/2013

Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.

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