Diagnosing Your Movement Disorder

Diagnosing Your Movement Disorder

Movement disorders is an umbrella term for a group of neurological conditions that cause abnormal movements, which may be voluntary or involuntary. These conditions can lead to an increase or a decrease in movement, depending on the exact cause. All have the ability to interfere with the activities of your daily life if not treated.

At Memphis Neurology, with locations in Southaven, Mississippi and Germantown, Tennessee, our expert team of neurologists specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of movement disorders, no matter how slight or how advanced the symptoms are. Here’s a look at some of the most common movement disorders we encounter, as well as how we diagnose these conditions.

Common movement disorders

Though there are quite a number of movement disorders, the most common ones we see at Memphis Neurology include:

Essential tremor

An essential tremor is the involuntary shaking of a body part, often the hands, arms or head, that worsens when you attempt basic movements. The condition affects about five million people in the US, and according to the US National Library of Medicine, tremors most commonly occur in adults over age 65.

Essential tremors are caused by problems in brain areas that control movement but aren’t linked to an underlying disease (e.g., Parkinson's disease). About 50% of patients have a family member with the condition. It usually doesn’t result in serious complications, but if you’re constantly shaking, it can interfere with some activities and cause distress.


Ataxia is a degenerative disorder that affects the brain, brainstem, or spinal cord and results in instability, imbalance, or a lack of coordination while performing voluntary movements. The movements themselves may appear disjointed or jerky to an observer. Patients are fall risks because of their unsteady gait, and their speech and eye movements may also suffer from disturbed movement. Ataxia usually occurs because of an underlying condition, such as a vitamin deficiency or metabolic disorder.


Dystonia is a neurological muscle disorder that produces involuntary muscle spasms in various parts of the body; common areas include the legs, arms, trunk, vocal cords, and eyelids. Dystonia is caused by improper function of the basal ganglia, part of the deep brain that helps control coordination of movement, including the speed and fluidity of movement, and that prevents unwanted movements. When the basal ganglia are disturbed, patients may experience repetitive movements, neck twisting, abnormal postures and positions, spasms on the face, and difficulty speaking.

Huntington’s disease

Huntington's disease is a progressive, degenerative, and ultimately fatal disease caused by the degradation of cells in the central brain areas that control movement, thinking skills, and mood changes. Its onset usually occurs between 35-50 years of age, and it progresses without remission over the next 10-25 years.

Huntington's disease symptoms include uncontrollable movements of the limbs, trunk, and face; a progressive loss of mental abilities; and the development of psychiatric problems.

Diagnosing your movement disorder

To diagnose whether you have a movement disorder or not, or to confirm which movement disorder you have, your Memphis Neurology physician takes a detailed medical history and performs a physical exam with a neurological assessment. This includes checking your motor skills and reflexes. They may ask you to walk around the room a bit to see if your gait has been affected.

In addition, the doctor may decide to take some tests, including:

Imaging tests by themselves may not be enough for a definitive diagnosis, but they’re useful to clarify clinical findings. These tests may include:

Since the symptoms of movement disorders can resemble those of stroke or vascular disease, the doctor may want studies of the vessels supplying blood to the brain. Tests include:

Treatment depends on the exact movement disorder, as well as its cause.

If you’re noticing symptoms of a movement disorder, it’s time to make an appointment with Memphis Neurology to determine what’s going on. Give us a call at either of our locations to schedule a consultation with one of our neurologists, or book online with us today.

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