What Are Involuntary Movements?

Involuntary Movements in body refers to a condition in which an individual does not have control over movements of the parts of the body. These movements can take place at any part of the body including the neck, face, and the extremities. There are a number of causes and conditions that can cause these Involuntary Movements of different body parts. They may come and go rapidly or may stay for some time and even become worse.

Involuntary Movements

What Causes Involuntary Movements?

Usually, any damage to the nerves or some areas of brain which facilitate motor coordination may cause these Involuntary Movements. Below mentioned are some of the potential causes of Involuntary Movements in both children as well as adults:

Causes of Involuntary Movements in Children:

  • Insufficient oxygen supply at the time of birth also known as hypoxia
  • Excessive production of bilirubin at the time of birth
  • Cerebral palsy which is a neurological disorder in which thew motor coordination gets affected

Causes of Involuntary Movements in Adults:

  • Drug abuse
  • Chronic use of antipsychotics
  • Tumors
  • Any injury to the brain
  • Stroke
  • Diseases like Parkinson Syndrome
  • Epilepsy
  • Syphilis
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Certain genetic disorders like Huntington disease or Wilson disease

What Are The Different Types Of Involuntary Movements?

Below mentioned some different types of Involuntary Movements:

Tardive Dyskinesias: This is a neurological disorder and is linked to use of neuroleptic medications which are used for treating psychiatric disorders. An individual suffering from Tardive Dyskinesia will experience the following frequent grimacing, rapid blinking of eyes, tongue protrusion, frequent pursing of lips.

Tremors: This is also a form of Involuntary Movements where the hands or legs shake in a rhythmic pattern. They are caused due to muscle contractions. According to studies tremors can result due to hypoglycemia, alcohol withdrawal, anxiety, excessive fear, and severe exhaustion. People with Parkinson Diseases or multiple sclerosis also have tremors.

Myoclonus: These types of Involuntary Movements feel like shock-like, jerking sensations which tend to occur naturally while sleeping or during moments when an individual gets surprised or startled. They can also be associated with disease conditions like seizures or Alzheimer’s disease.

Tic Disorder: In a Tic Disorder an individual experiences sudden frequent movements of the extremities. They can be divided into simple or complex types depending on the muscle groups involved. Some examples of a simple tic disorder are frequent shrugging of the shoulders or flexing the fingers.

Athetosis: In this disorder there are slow writhing movements normally of the hands and arms.

How Are Involuntary Movements Diagnosed?

If an individual experiences frequent Involuntary Movements then it has to be checked by the treating physician in order to identify the cause of the movements rule out potentially serious conditions. To begin with the treating physician will conduct a detailed history taking and conduct a physical examination. The physician may ask the following questions:

  • How long has been the duration of the movements?
  • What parts of the body are maximally affected by the movements?
  • Is there anything that seems to make the movements better or worse?
  • Does the symptom get worse in stressful situations?
  • What is the frequency of the movements?
  • Has the individual experienced any worsening of the symptoms?

Apart from this, certain diagnostic studies may also be ordered to confirm the diagnosis which may include

  • Blood studies to look at the levels of RBC
  • Thyroid function tests
  • Copper levels to rule out any signs of Wilson Disease
  • Studies to rule out syphilis
  • Screening for connective tissue disorders like SLE
  • Urinalysis
  • Spinal tap
  • MRI or CT scan of brain
  • EEG to rule out seizure disorder.

How Are Involuntary Movements Treated?

The overall prognosis of Involuntary Movements is variable and depends on how severe the symptoms are, although there are certain medications which can reduce the severity of the symptoms. For example anti-seizure medications can also control the movement disorder. Certain activities suggested by the doctor can help in controlling motor control and reduce the symptoms of Involuntary Movements. Some of the activities are swimming, stretching, and balancing exercises. To help the affected individual emotionally and support them there are a lot of support groups available who help the patients with the emotional toll that the affected experiences due to Involuntary Movements.

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:


Last Modified On: June 15, 2016

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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