Definition and Overview

Movement disorder is a general term used to describe a wide range of neurological conditions that cause the body to move unnaturally. This is the result when any part of the central nervous system (brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerves and muscles) has been damaged due to injury and diseases.

Movement disorders can be characterized by exaggerated or involuntary movements like repetitive motions, uncontrollable twitching of a specific muscle group, compulsory twisting and oscillations. In some patients, these disorders also result in general weakness, loss of coordination and loss of balance.

The treatment for movement disorders depends largely on the causes. For instance, if the condition has developed due to alcohol abuse, the patient will be advised to discontinue the habit immediately, and this will typically result in the improvement of the condition. Other treatment options include surgery and performing movement disorder exercises. The latter is recommended to rehabilitate the nerves and muscles and help the patient get back to his daily routine.

Movement disorder exercises are recommended by a neurosurgeon once he has made a diagnosis and identified the cause of the problem. The exercises are performed in coordination with a rehabilitation or physical therapist. The extent and length of the treatment are based on the severity of the condition and this can range from months to years. These exercises can be performed at home, at a rehabilitation center or in a hospital setting. There are also some fitness centres that specialise in neurological rehabilitation where exercises are a major part of their program.

Who Should Undergo and Expected Results

People who have conditions that affect the central nervous system (examples are listed below) are the best candidates for movement disorder exercises.

  • Ataxia – This is a degenerative disorder that affects the spinal cord, brainstem and the brain. Individuals with this condition struggle with balance and coordination. They also experience tremors and their movements appear disjointed or jerky.

  • Dystonia – This is a neurological muscle disorder that affects the part of the brain that controls movement. Individuals with dystonia typically experience uncontrollable twisting, have abnormal postures and perform repetitive movements.

  • Huntington’s disease – This is a serious medical condition caused by the deterioration of certain nerve cells in the brain. Its symptoms include jerking and uncontrollable movements of the limbs, face and trunk.

  • Parkinson’s disease – This is another degenerative disorder that affects the part of the brain that controls movements. Symptoms include tremor, loss of spontaneous movement and stiffness of limbs.
    The expected results of movement disorder exercises include:

  • Improved mobility– Patients with movement disorders find themselves weakened and unable to complete basic functions, like getting out of bed, walking a few steps and turning their heads, among others. By performing certain exercises regularly, they will be able to slowly develop weakened muscles, allowing them to move gracefully and with more control.

  • Improved muscle strength – Some patients with weakened muscles can’t even lift small things (even forks and spoon) and if they do, they can’t manage to hold on to them for a long time. They will continually drop them and simple activities, such as eating, can easily become a frustrating experience.

  • Improved balance – Various movement disorders do not just affect the patient’s ability to move his limbs but also to carry and balance his own weight. This means being able to sit, stand and walk without falling and feeling vertigo. The exercises are meant to improve patients’ muscle strength and mobility.

  • To spur brain activity – The treatment of various movement disorders through a set of specific and regular exercises not just helps in developing muscles but it also creates new pathways of learning for spurring brain activity. In neurological conditions, the transmission of stimulus from nerves to the brain is sometimes affected which results in loss of coordination and delay in response. By creating new learning pathways through exercise, patients can expect a better response and greater improvement in their muscle tone, muscle strength and overall movement.

How Does the Procedure Work

Before any movement disorder exercises can be planned and recommended, an accurate diagnosis of the disorder is required. The doctor will review the patient’s medical history and perform a thorough physical and neurological examination, blood tests and diagnostic imaging exams.

The results of these examinations will help the doctors tailor a specific treatment plan for the patient. Depending on the affected body part, the severity of the condition and the patient’s overall health, exercises that may be recommended to the patient may include the following:

  • Balance exercises
  • Weight training
  • Tai Chi
  • Yoga
  • Swimming
  • Pilates
    Movement disorder exercises may be performed while the patient is undergoing other treatment which may include medication, therapy, psychological evaluations and surgery. The goal of the whole treatment is to restore the patient’s quality of life.

The patient will then be given a schedule for his exercises, which is also why a family member needs to be with him during the consultation so that they can voice out their opinion on the schedule and potential activities assigned to the patient. Some home exercises may also be recommended and a family member can assist the patient in following the regimen.

Possible Complications and Risks

Movement disorder exercises are scheduled depending on the capability of the patient to perform the tasks. There will be routine follow-ups that aim to monitor the patient’s health to see if the exercises are too rigorous for him and if so, these sessions will be adjusted. If the exercises are not customized based on the patient’s unique circumstances or performed unsupervised, the patient may be at risk of suffering injuries.


  • Johns Hopkins Medicine Movement Disorders Center: "What is Essential Tremor?"
  • U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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