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Focal Dystonia in Musicians: Phenomenology, Pathophysiology, Triggering Factors, and Treatment

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Musician’s dystonia is a task-specific movement disorder that manifests itself as a loss of voluntary motor control in extensively trained movements. Approximately 1% of all professional musicians develop musician’s dystonia, and in many cases, the disorder terminates the careers of affected musicians. The pathophysiology of the disorder is not completely clarified. Findings include 1) reduced inhibition at different levels of the central nervous system, 2) maladaptive plasticity and altered sensory perception, and 3) alterations in sensorimotor integration. Epidemiological data demonstrate a higher risk for those musicians who play instruments requiring maximal fine-motor skills. For instruments where workload differs across hands, focal dystonia appears more often in the more intensely used hand. In psychological studies, musicians with dystonia have more anxiety and perfectionist tendencies than healthy musicians. These findings strengthen the assumption that behavioral factors may be involved in the etiology of musician’s dystonia. Preliminary findings also suggest a genetic contribution to focal task-specific dystonia with phenotypic variations including musician’s dystonia. Treatment options include pharmacological interventions, such as trihexyphenidyl or botulinum toxin-A, as well as retraining programs and ergonomic changes in the instrument. Patient-tailored treatment strategies may significantly improve the situation of musicians with focal dystonia. Positive results after retraining and unmonitored technical exercises underline the benefit of an active involvement of patients in the treatment process. Only a minority of musicians, however, return to normal motor control using the currently available therapies.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2010

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  • Medical Problems of Performing Artists is the first clinical medical journal devoted to the etiology, diagnosis, and treatment of medical and psychological disorders related to the performing arts. Original peer-reviewed research papers cover topics including neurologic disorders, musculoskeletal conditions, voice and hearing disorders, anxieties, stress, substance abuse, and other health issues related to actors, dancers, singers, musicians, and other performers.
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