Coronavirus (COVID-19) updates, visitor restrictions and resources →

Movement - uncontrolled or slow

  • Definition
    • Uncontrolled or slow movement is a problem with muscle tone, usually in the large muscle groups. The problem leads to slow, uncontrollable jerky movements of the head, limbs, trunk, or neck.

  • Alternative Names
    • Dystonia; Involuntary slow and twisting movements; Choreoathetosis; Leg and arm movements - uncontrollable; Arm and leg movements - uncontrollable; Slow involuntary movements of large muscle groups; Athetoid movements

  • Considerations
    • The abnormal movement may be reduced or disappear during sleep. Emotional stress makes it worse.

      Abnormal and sometimes strange postures may occur because of these movements.

  • Causes
    • The slow twisting movements of muscles (athetosis) or jerky muscle contractions (dystonia) may be caused by one of many conditions, including:

      Sometimes two conditions (such as a brain injury and medication) interact to cause the abnormal movements when neither one alone would cause a problem.

  • Home Care
    • Get enough sleep and avoid too much stress. Take safety measures to avoid injury. Follow the treatment plan your doctor prescribes.

  • When to Contact a Medical Professional
    • Call your health care provider if:

      • You have unexplained movements that you cannot control
      • The problem is getting worse
      • Uncontrolled movements occur with other symptoms
  • What to Expect at Your Office Visit
    • The doctor will perform a physical exam. This may include a detailed examination of the nervous and muscle systems.

      The doctor will ask about your medical history and symptoms, including:

      • When did you develop this problem?
      • Is it always the same?
      • Is it always present or only sometimes?
      • Is it getting worse?
      • Is it worse after exercise?
      • Is it worse during times of emotional stress?
      • Have you been injured or in an accident recently?
      • Have you been sick recently?
      • Is it better after you sleep?
      • Does anyone else in your family have a similar problem?
      • What other symptoms do you have?
      • What medicines are you taking?

      Tests that may be ordered include:

      Treatment is based on the movement problem the person has and on the condition that may be causing the problem. If medicines are used, the health care provider will decide which medicine to prescribe based on the person's symptoms and any test results.

  • References
    • Jankovic J, Lang AE. Movement disorders. 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. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 410.