Muscle relaxation is impaired in dystonia: a reaction time study

Mov Disord. 2004 Jun;19(6):681-7. doi: 10.1002/mds.10711.


A simple visual reaction time (RT) paradigm was used to investigate whether the velocity of relaxation is impaired in dystonia. In 16 subjects with a clinical diagnosis of adult-onset focal, segmental or multifocal dystonia and in 15 age-matched normal controls, the relaxation reaction time (R-RT) and the contraction reaction time (C-RT) were compared across different tasks involving the flexor carpi radialis (FCR), biceps brachii (BB) and triceps brachii (TR) arm muscles. In normal controls, the latency of EMG termination (R-RT) was significantly shorter than the latency of electromyographic (EMG) onset (C-RT) in the BB and TR muscles, but not in the FCR muscle. In dystonic patients, the latency of EMG termination (R-RT) was significantly longer than the latency of EMG onset (C-RT) in the FCR and BB muscles. No significant difference of the C-RT was observed between patients and controls whereas the R-RT was prolonged significantly in the BB and TR muscles of patients with dystonia and almost significantly in the FCR muscle. This study indicates that muscle relaxation is abnormal in patients with focal (multifocal or segmental) dystonia. The impaired muscle relaxation may contribute to the longer overlap of agonist-antagonist activities (co-contraction) typically observed in dystonia and to the slowness of voluntary movement sequencing.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Dystonia / physiopathology*
  • Electromyography / instrumentation
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle Relaxation / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Severity of Illness Index