Abnormal reorganization in focal hand dystonia--sensory and motor training programs to retrain cortical function

NeuroRehabilitation. 2008;23(1):43-53.


Dystonia is a disabling movement disorder, which is characterized by an abnormal pattern of muscle activity with co-contraction of agonist and antagonist muscles. In the case of focal hand dystonia (FHD), these abnormal movements affect muscles of the forearm and hand while performing a specific task. Patients may initially present with dystonic symptoms occurring with a selective task (simple writer's cramp or musician's cramp), and may progress to develop symptoms with multiple tasks (dystonic writer's cramp). The underlying cause of this disabling condition remains unclear. This review examines recent studies designed to further elucidate the underlying pathophysiological processes in focal dystonia. Animal research work, and neurophysiological and neuroimaging studies in humans, have identified several possible mechanisms that may contribute to the underlying pathophysiology, including impaired sensorimotor integration, motor cortex activation and surround inhibition. Pharmacological treatment for dystonia is currently suboptimal. Based on these recent pathophysiological findings, several promising and novel non-pharmacological treatment modalities have recently been developed. Attempts at modulating impaired sensorimotor integration and cortical inhibition using sensorimotor retraining, and the range of sensory training techniques recently described, are further discussed in this review.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiopathology
  • Dystonic Disorders / etiology
  • Dystonic Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Dystonic Disorders / therapy*
  • Exercise Therapy
  • Hand
  • Humans
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology