Dystonia — Painful Muscle Cramps

DYSTONIA refers to irregular, often sustained muscle contractions (cramps) anywhere in the body.  Dystonia may occur on one side of the body only, over large areas of the body, or in small muscles groups such as the forearms, hands, fingers, eyes, mouth, tongue, jaw, or larynx (voice box), or neck.

Dystonia is thought to be the result of abnormal nerve communication within the basal ganglia deep inside the brain and triggered by a chemical imbalance in the brain, medications, and old or recent trauma, birth trauma, as well as overuse of small muscle groups for tasks that require fine motor skills such as painting, drawing, typing, and the playing of musical instruments.  Early onset dystonia may in some cases be the result of faulty genes.

In any event, the pain and cramping result from impaired nerve conduction to the affected muscles.

Dystonia may be perpetuated by connective tissue changes.

Dystonia, officially a neurological movement disorder, really is disordered muscle tone due to injury to, or constant irritation of, the nerves that carry the brain’s signals to these muscles to contract.  This condition may start out as mild pain and fatigue, with occasional twitching of the muscles, eventually leading to sustained contraction of these muscles until activity is ceased and the muscles come to rest.

Over time, the fascia (connective tissue) that weaves through and envelops these muscles tightens around the individual muscle fibers and bundles, as well as the entire muscle.  This creates a sort of stranglehold that initiates these episodes even sooner until just the thought of moving these muscles can set off contractions.

The texture of fascia can vary from very soft to almost rock hard.  With inflammation, such as trauma, excess or faulty movement, infections, and other forms of irritation, the fascia starts to harden and stick together, binding the various structures to each other and robbing them of individual movement.  It becomes a vicious circle that’s difficult to escape from.  Fascial constriction may thus perpetuate and intensify dystonia.

Conventional treatment for dystonia.

Medications, such as muscle relaxants, may help to reduce the frequency, severity, and duration of the cramps but come with a host of potentially severe side effects.  Botox injections have become ever more popular to keep the dystonia in check.

Botox (botulinum toxin) is a nerve poison (neurotoxin) that wears off after a few weeks and needs to be injected every 3-6 months.  It does not cure the condition.  It only knocks the muscles out of commission temporarily.  Often, adjacent muscles are affected by the poison as well.  People often experience weakness and loss of sensation in these muscles or the skin overlying them.

Surgery, of course, is irreversible.  Once the nerve supply is interrupted, the use of the muscle is essentially lost forever.

Natural approaches may be of help.

There are plenty of herbs and homeopathic remedies that can safely decrease pain, muscle tightness and/or spasticity, as well as tonify the nervous system but do not come with the host of side effects as do over-the-counter  or prescription medications.  A naturopathic doctor, or Chinese medicine practitioner, can help you choose the remedies most appropriate for you.  Acupuncture and acupressure may be of help as well.

There is one form of therapy, an outgrowth of craniosacral therapy, that I have developed over the past few years and call energetic unwinding of  the spine, joints, and muscles that holds tremendous promise for people suffering with dystonia.

This therapy gently helps the body to release tension and stickiness in the fascia enveloping the affected muscles, helping to restore normal nerve function and use of these muscles.  Energetic unwinding  is very gentle and intuitively blends craniosacral therapy with acupressure and soft tissue work.

Until the next natural healing perspective blog…

To Your Health