Difference Between Dystonia and Spasticity

Dystonia and Spasticity are conditions that come as a result of neurological damage or disorders, impacting mobility and quality of life. Both conditions manifest with alterations in muscle tone, causing abnormal movements and postures, yet they both differ in their cause, symptoms and way of treatment. Third most common movement disorder after Parkinson's disease and essential tremor and Spasticity is affected nearly 80% of individuals with cerebral palsy. Dystonia and spasticity can be seen together if the person has a neurological disorder that affects multiple areas of the brain and spinal cord.

Dystonia vs Spasticity: A Comparative Table

Below is the difference between dystonia and spasticity in tabular format.

Feature Dystonia Spasticity
Definition Abnormal muscle contractions causing movement disorders Increased muscle tone leading to stiffness and involuntary movements
Types Focal, segmental, generalized, hemidystonia, task-specific Stroke-related, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury
Causes Genetic, injury, medications, neurodegenerative diseases Stroke, MS, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury
Symptoms Twisting, repetitive movements, abnormal postures Muscle stiffness, spasms, abnormal movements, difficulty with coordination
Diagnosis Clinical assessment, medical history, imaging, EMG Clinical evaluation, muscle tone assessment, imaging, EMG
Treatment Medications, botulinum toxin, physical therapy, DBS Medications, physical therapy, baclofen pump, orthoses, surgery

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What is Dystonia?

Dystonia is a neurological movement disorder that causes involuntary muscle contractions leading to repetitive movements , twisting and abnormal postures. Dystonia that affect a single body part (focal dystonia), multiple parts (segmental dystonia), or the entire body (generalized dystonia) and Some forms of dystonia have a genetic basis. For example, DYT1 dystonia is caused by a mutation in the TOR1A gene.


Causes can vary in accordance with the type of dystonia. Usually dystonia is classified into primary and secondary forms. Primary dystonia has no identifiable cause while secondary dystonia is associated with underlying conditions such as brain injury, stroke, infections, or exposure to certain drugs.


The major symptoms are as follows.

  • Involuntary muscle contractions
  • Abnormal postures
  • Twisting movements
  • Muscle cramps


The Diagnosis process for dystonia is a combination of clinical evaluation, including patient history, neurological examination, and sometimes genetic testing or neuroimaging to identify underlying causes.

Treatment and Management

  • Medications (e.g. anticholinergics, muscle relaxants)
  • Botulinum toxin injections (Botox)
  • Physical therapy
  • Deep brain stimulation (DBS) for severe cases

What is Spasticity?

An abnormally high level of muscle tone or stiffness is known as spasticity, and it can impair speech, mobility, and cause pain and discomfort. It is frequently linked to disorders of the central nervous system (CNS).

Causes of Spasticity

  • Neurological Disorders: Damage to the CNS, including the brain and spinal cord.
  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS): Demyelination of nerve fibers affects muscle control.
  • Cerebral Palsy: Damage to the developing brain affects movement and muscle tone.
  • Stroke: Brain injury resulting in impaired movement control.
  • Spinal Cord Injury: Disruption of nerve signals between the brain and muscles.


The Main symptoms of spasticity are as follows,

  • Stiffness and Tightness: Difficulty in moving limbs.
  • Increased Muscle Tone: Muscles remain contracted.
  • Pain and Discomfort: Persistent contraction can cause pain.
  • Clonus: Rapid muscle contractions in response to stretching.
  • Exaggerated Reflexes: Hyperactive reflex responses.

Treatment procedures

  • Physical Therapy: Exercises to improve range of motion and muscle strength.
  • Medications: Medicines that help in Muscle relaxants like baclofen, tizanidine, and diazepam.
  • Botox Injections: Botulinum toxin to reduce muscle stiffness.
  • Surgery : In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to release tendons or cut nerves.

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Key Differences and Similarities.


  • Dystonia involves involuntary muscle contractions causing twisting movements and abnormal postures. Spasticity involves increased muscle tone and exaggerated reflexes, leading to muscle stiffness and spasms.


  • Both are neurological conditions involving abnormal muscle activity
  • They can result from central nervous system damage
  • Both conditions significantly impact daily living, causing pain, reduced mobility
  • Their treatment method includes medications, physical therapy, and botulinum toxin injections
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What are the primary differences between dystonia and spasticity?

Dystonia involves involuntary muscle contractions causing twisting movements and abnormal postures. Spasticity involves increased muscle tone and exaggerated reflexes, leading to muscle stiffness and spasms.

Can a person have both dystonia and spasticity?

Yes, it is possible for an individual to experience both conditions, especially if they have a neurological disorder that affects multiple areas of the brain and spinal cord.

How are dystonia and spasticity diagnosed?

Both conditions are diagnosed through clinical evaluation, including patient history and neurological examination. Neuroimaging and genetic testing may also be used to identify underlying causes.

What are the common symptoms of dystonia?

Symptoms of dystonia include involuntary muscle contractions, abnormal postures, twisting movements, and muscle cramps.

What are the treatment options for spasticity?

Treatment options for spasticity include medications (e.g., baclofen, tizanidine), physical therapy, occupational therapy, intrathecal baclofen therapy, and botulinum toxin injections.