Adult head-banging and stereotypic movement disorders

Mov Disord. 1998 Sep;13(5):825-8. doi: 10.1002/mds.870130512.


Stereotypic movement disorders (SMD) such as head-banging, which are common among children with mental retardation or pervasive developmental disorders, may also occur in intellectually normal adults. We report a 27-year history of daily head-banging with self-injury in a 49-year-old man with normal cognition. The patient had no personal or family history of Tourette's syndrome, tic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or mental retardation. The frequency of his stereotypical head-banging increased with anxiety, loud noises with startle, and boredom. He reported a sense of pleasure from his head-banging, and the frequency of this behavior decreased when he was treated with the opioid antagonist naltrexone. Although not diagnostic, the self-stimulatory or pleasurable component of head-banging, body-rocking, thumb-sucking, and other SMD may help distinguish them from tics, Tourette's syndrome, OCD, and deliberate self-harming behavior. This report reviews the disorders associated with SMD and discusses the potential mechanisms for these behaviors. The treatment of SMD includes drugs that work through opioid, serotonergic, or dopaminergic systems.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Naltrexone / therapeutic use
  • Narcotic Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / diagnosis
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / drug therapy
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / psychology
  • Stereotypic Movement Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Stereotypic Movement Disorder / drug therapy
  • Stereotypic Movement Disorder / psychology


  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Naltrexone