Movement Disorders | Diagnosis & Treatment

How are movement disorders diagnosed?

Because movement disorders and their causes are so varied, the tests used to diagnose these disorders can also vary. These may include:

  • genetic testing
  • metabolic testing
  • specialized MRI imaging of the brain
  • electroencephalogram (EEG) to evaluate the child for seizures

How are movement disorders treated?

Treatment of movement disorders varies from child to child, depending on the type of disorder and the underlying cause. Some children with movement disorders may only need observation, as many disorders improve as children develop.

When treatment is necessary, options may include:

  • oral medications to relax muscles and ease stiffness, tremors and spasms
  • injections of botulinum toxin (Botox) for dystonia that affects a single body part, and sometimes for tic disorders and myoclonus
  • dopamine (levodopa) for parkinsonism
  • an implanted baclofen pump can be helpful for dystonia mixed with spasticity that does not get better with oral medications
  • deep brain stimulation is a treatment for primary dystonia that does not respond to medications

Some children with movement disorder may also benefit from:

  • physical therapy to strengthen or stretch the affected limbs and muscles
  • occupational therapy to help overcome any limitations caused by abnormal movements
  • support to help the family and child cope with ongoing symptoms of movement disorders
  • neuropsychiatric testing, when the movement disorder is accompanied by cognitive or behavioral problems

What is the long-term outlook for movement disorders?

How well a child will do depends on the type of movement disorder, its cause, how well the movement disorder is treated and how soon treatment is started. For example, a child with primary dystonia can live a normal life if they are treated early, while dystonia that goes undiagnosed and untreated for many years can become permanently disabling.

Other movement disorders, such as tic disorders, may eventually go away on their own or become much milder.

If the movement disorder is part of a serious genetic or degenerative disorder, there may be no treatment. In most cases, though, there are interventions that can relieve children’s symptoms, in some cases dramatically.