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What is Stereotypic Movement Disorder and How is it Treated?

What Is Stereotypic Movement Disorder?

Stereotypic movement disorder is a medical condition where a person does purposeless movements in a repetitive and often rhythmic manner.1 Sometimes, these movements can cause self-injury. This type of behavior is considered a disorder if the repetitive movements continue for a minimum of four weeks along with interfering with a person’s quality of life and daily activities. Children suffering from mental and developmental retardation commonly suffer from Stereotypic movement disorder.

Treatment for Stereotypic movement disorder focuses on improving the patient’s surrounding, preventing and cutting down the risk of self-injury. Treatment also depends on what is triggering Stereotypic movement disorder and the severity of this disorder.

Causes of Stereotypic Movement Disorder

The cause behind stereotypic movement disorder is unknown. There is increase or worsening of the movements if the patient is under stress, bored or frustrated. There are some conditions which can lead to this disorder, such as injuries to the head, certain physical conditions, and using drugs such as cocaine.

Risk Factors For Stereotypic Movement Disorder

Stereotypic Movement Disorder can affect anyone at any age; however, boys are more affected than girls. Stereotypic movement disorder commonly affects children who have mental retardation or are suffering from neurological disorders.

Symptoms of Stereotypic Movement Disorder

Given below are some repetitive movements which a person with Stereotypic Movement Disorder exhibits:

Symptoms of Stereotypic Movement Disorder

  • Head banging.
  • Rocking to and fro.
  • Nail biting.
  • Self-biting.
  • Self-hitting
  • Handshaking.
  • Waving.
  • Mouthing of objects.
  • Picking at the skin.

Investigations for Stereotypic Movement Disorder

Complete medical history and physical exam are done and the patient’s symptoms are assessed. There are no specific lab tests which diagnose stereotypic movement disorder; however, the doctor can do certain tests, such as blood tests and neuroimaging studies to exclude certain physical illness or side effects of medication, which can be causing the symptoms of this disorder.

Patient’s symptoms itself are suggestive of this disorder and help in confirming the diagnosis of stereotypic movement disorder. To confirm the diagnosis, symptoms should be present for at least four weeks or longer along with disruption in patient’s daily activities of living.

Treatment of Stereotypic Movement Disorder

  • Treatment is done, first of all, of any injuries the patient is having as a result of Stereotypic movement disorder.
  • Treatment for Stereotypic movement disorder focuses on ensuring the patient’s safety and in improving the patient’s ability to function on a daily basis. The surroundings of the patient need to be modified in order to cut down the risk of injury, such as, if the patient is banging his/ her head, then the patient should wear a helmet to protect themselves from a head injury.
  • Stress is a common trigger for Stereotypic movement disorder which comprise of movements and changing behaviors. So treatment for this condition comprises of approaches or therapies, which help in reducing the stress. If the patient is picking at his/her skin or hitting oneself, then the patient can be taught to keep his/her hands in the pockets whenever there is an urge to hit or pick. Relaxation techniques are also taught to the patient to help overcome these repetitive urges.
  • For some patients suffering from Stereotypic movement disorder, antidepressants such as Prozac, Luvox and Zoloft, which are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), or tricyclic antidepressants like Anafranil help in reducing the repetitive movements.
  • If any neurological disorders are causing these symptoms, then treatment is done accordingly.
  • If the symptoms of Stereotypic movement disorder are occurring as a result of taking some drugs, then that specific drug is stopped immediately.

Prognosis of Stereotypic Movement Disorder

The prognosis of stereotypic movement disorder depends on the severity of the condition. If drugs are causing this disorder, then symptoms often subside after some hours. Trauma or injury to the head which causes stereotypic movement disorder can be permanent. Medications help in reducing the severity of this disorder.

Prevention of Stereotypic Movement Disorder

It is not exactly possible to prevent stereotypic movement disorder. However, early recognition and treatment of the symptoms help in cutting down the risk of self-injury.


Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:July 19, 2019

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