Dr. Burnett placing neuro trackers on patients arms

Movement Disorders

“Movement disorders” is a term used to identify a group of neurological conditions that cause abnormal movements of the head, a single limb, or sometimes the entire body. Movement disorders can produce either an increase or a decrease in movement in a way that interferes with normal functioning.

The CHI Health Neurological Institute specialists will work with patients on individualized treatment plans that can help with recovery from and management of symptoms.

What Problems Does a Movement Disorders Specialist Evaluate?

  • Problems with walking, balance, or falls
  • Clumsiness and trouble using your hands
  • Excessive muscle stiffness and spasms
  • Speech difficulty: slurred speech, soft speech, spasms of the mouth or tongue, tics
  • Tremors: uncontrollable shaking
  • Myoclonus: rapid, random jerks of a limb or the body
  • Chorea: excessive writhing or fidgeting movements
  • Dystonia: excess muscle tightness producing tremors, cramps, or twisting of the head or limbs
  • Involuntary blinking and winking of one side of the face
  • Head drop: trouble lifting up the head, which could be from muscle tightness, weakness, or both
  • Any loss of control over movement

What are Examples of Movement Disorders?

  • Parkinson's Disease: a condition more likely with aging that causes slowness, stiffness, tremors, walking problems, and imbalance
  • Parkinsonism: what we call the above symptoms if caused by something besides Parkinson's disease, such as Multiple Systems Atrophy, Corticobasal Ganglionic Degeneration, or Progressive Supranuclear Palsy
  • Essential Tremor: a condition that causes shaky limbs, head, and voice and tends to run in families
  • Cerebellar Ataxia: a name for a variety of conditions that cause clumsiness of gait, slurred speech, vision, and swallowing problems
  • Huntington’s Disease: an inherited condition that produces chorea (excessive involuntary movements), imbalance, and memory problems, among other symptoms
  • Restless Legs Syndrome: a funny feeling that produces a compulsion to move and pace at night
  • Tardive Dyskinesia: involuntary facial movements produced as a side effect of some medications
  • Cervical Dystonia: twisting and tremors of the neck
  • Writer’s Cramp: twisting and tremors of the hand and arm while writing
  • Hemifacial Spasm: twitching and winking of one side of the face
  • Tourette Syndrome and Tics: when a person feels compelled to execute a voluntary movement or noise repeatedly
  • Functional Movement Disorder: a condition in which abnormal voluntary movements occur, but knowledge that the movements are voluntary is lost

How are Movement Disorders Diagnosed?

There are many movement disorders and each has its own unique testing or evaluation process. A patient’s medical history, neurologic exams and lab tests – such as MRIs, CTs, blood tests, and spinal fluid analyses – help physicians rule out other diseases and confirm the specific movement disorder diagnosis.

What Happens After Diagnosis?

The CHI Health Neurological Institute multidisciplinary team offers highly trained experts that enable us to offer comprehensive movement disorder care which begins with the diagnosis and lasts a lifetime. Our goal is to work with the patient to reduce disease activity, manage symptoms and maintain the highest quality of life. Most movement disorders are treatable. Many conditions respond to medication or botulinum toxin (Botox) injections.

Some conditions eventually require surgery:

  • Focused Ultrasound (Available at CHI Health): Incisionless procedure for the treatment of essential tremor. 
  • Deep Brain Stimulation (Coming soon to CHI Health): Implantation of a “pacemaker for the brain.” 

Managing movement disorders is an ongoing process, beginning with the very first symptom and continuing throughout the disease or disorders course. It’s never too soon or too late to think about how to access high quality, comprehensive, interdisciplinary care for movement disorders.

Melinda Burnett, MD

Neurology