Uncontrollable movements include many types of movements that you cannot control. They can affect the arms, legs, face, neck, or other parts of the body.
Examples of uncontrollable movements are:
- Loss of muscle tone (flaccidity)
- Slow, twisting, or continued movements (chorea, athetosis, or dystonia)
- Sudden jerking movements (myoclonus, ballismus)
- Uncontrollable repetitive movements (asterixis or tremor)
There are many causes of uncontrolled movements. Some movements last only a short time. Others are due to a permanent condition of the brain and spinal cord and may get worse.
Some of these movements affect children. Others affect only adults.
Causes in children:
- Genetic disorder
- Kernicterus (too much bilirubin in the central nervous system after birth)
- Lack of oxygen (hypoxia) at birth
Causes in adults:
- Nervous system diseases that are getting worse
- Genetic disorder
- Stroke or brain injury
- Illicit drugs
- Head and neck trauma
Physical therapy that includes swimming, stretching, walking, and balancing exercises can help with coordination and slow the damage.
Ask the health care provider whether walking aids, such as a cane or walker, would be helpful.
People with this disorder are prone to falls. Talk with the provider about measures to prevent falls.
Family support is important. It helps to openly discuss your feelings. Self-help groups are available in many communities.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your provider if you have any unexplained movements that you cannot control that do not go away.
What to Expect at Your Office Visit
The provider will perform a physical exam and ask about your symptoms and medical history. You will have a detailed examination of both the nervous and muscle systems.
Medical history questions may include:
- Are there muscle contractions that may be causing the abnormal posture?
- Are the arms affected?
- Are the legs affected?
- When did this movement begin?
- Did it occur suddenly?
- Has it been getting worse slowly over weeks or months?
- Is it present all the time?
- Is it worse after exercise?
- Is it worse when you are stressed?
- Is it better after sleep?
- What makes it better?
- What other symptoms are present?
Tests that may be ordered include:
- Blood tests (such as CBC or blood differential)
- CT scan of the head or affected area
- EEG (brain wave study)
- Lumbar puncture
- MRI of the head or affected area
Treatment depends on the cause. Many uncontrollable movements are treated with medicines. Some symptoms may improve on their own. Your provider will make recommendations based on your signs and symptoms.
Uncontrolled movements; Involuntary body movements; Body movements - uncontrollable; Dyskinesia; Athetosis; Myoclonus; Ballismus
Jankovic J, Lang AE. Diagnosis and assessment of Parkinson disease and other movement disorders. In: Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, Pomeroy SL, Newman NJ, eds. Bradley and Daroff's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 24.
Okun MS, Lang AE. Other movement disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 382.
Review Date 1/28/2021
Updated by: Evelyn O. Berman, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology and Pediatrics at University of Rochester, Rochester, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.