Focal dystonia is a neurological disorder. It causes involuntary muscle contractions in one body part. You may have muscle twitches in your neck, face, jaw, feet or hands. Focal dystonia that affects hands and wrists is common in musicians, athletes and writers. In golfers and baseball players, people often call focal dystonia “the yips.”
Focal dystonia is a neurological disorder. It causes involuntary muscle movements or contractions in one part of your body. You may have focal dystonia in your neck, eyes, jaw or vocal cords. Focal dystonia can also affect your wrists, hands or fingers.
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Task-specific focal dystonia is involuntary muscle contractions that interfere with a specific task. Some examples of task-specific focal dystonia include:
Task-specific focal dystonia often affects people who have jobs or hobbies that require a lot of fine motor skills, like tennis players.
Focal dystonia and carpal tunnel syndrome can cause similar symptoms. But focal dystonia occurs because of problems with how your brain and nerves communicate. Carpal tunnel syndrome develops because of overuse or problems with your nerves.
When task-specific focal dystonia affects athletes who play sports involving lots of hand or wrist movement, it’s known as “the yips.” The yips commonly affect athletes who play golf or baseball.
Focal dystonia is most common in adults ages 40 to 60. Women and people assigned female at birth develop focal dystonia about three times as often as men and people assigned male at birth do.
Although dystonia is one of the most common types of movement disorders, focal dystonia is relatively rare. It affects about 3 in every 10,000 people in the United States.
Focal dystonia is idiopathic, which means experts can’t point to one factor that causes it. But we do know that focal dystonia occurs when your nerves and brain don’t communicate as they should.
Sometimes, focal dystonia symptoms are connected to changes in an athlete’s, writer’s or musician’s habits, such as:
Researchers haven’t proven a genetic link in focal dystonia. But about 1 in 10 people who develop focal dystonia have a family history of it.
Some people think golfers or baseball players get the yips because of performance anxiety. But the yips may also happen because of improper form or overuse.
People with certain health conditions are more likely to get the yips as well, including those with:
Focal dystonia symptoms can vary depending on what body part the dystonia affects. In general, the first sign of focal dystonia may be a slight decrease in muscle coordination. For example, you may drop items more easily if symptoms affect your hands. You may have difficulty eating or drinking without spilling if symptoms affect your mouth.
Over time, focal dystonia causes more severe muscle symptoms, including:
People with focal dystonia may also deal with secondary symptoms. Secondary symptoms develop because of the emotional and physical stress of having the condition. They aren’t related to the muscles themselves. These symptoms might include:
Focal dystonia symptoms may worsen for a period, stabilize and then recur (come back). But in some people, focal dystonia may stop progressing altogether.
To diagnose focal dystonia, your healthcare provider asks about your symptoms and medical history. They also examine the affected body part.
During diagnosis, your healthcare provider will rule out other conditions that could cause similar symptoms, such as overuse injuries. You may have a/an:
There isn’t a cure for focal dystonia. But treatment can reduce spasms and stop them from worsening. Focal dystonia treatment may include:
Because experts don’t know what causes focal dystonia, there’s no guaranteed way to prevent it. But we do know that some factors can worsen focal dystonia. It may help to:
Focal dystonia can spread and affect other parts of your body. In about 1 in 6 people with the condition, the focal dystonia spreads to other areas.
The good news is that treatment can reduce how frequent and severe focal dystonia symptoms are. If your symptoms don’t improve after treatment, speak with your healthcare provider. You may need to change the treatment approach.
You may want to ask your healthcare provider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Focal dystonia is a neurological condition that causes involuntary muscle contractions in one body part. Focal dystonia that affects your hand, wrist or arm is common in people who frequently use fine motor skills. It often affects musicians, athletes, hairstylists and writers. Focal dystonia can have similar symptoms to nerve injuries. But focal dystonia happens because of miscommunication among your nerves, muscles and brain. Treatment may include lifestyle changes, medications, injections or surgery.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/16/2022.
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