List of sensory tricks

Here is a list of some of the actions people have tried to momentarily alleviate the symptoms of dystonia. Their effect remains a mystery but has often been confirmed by clinical research.  The list is compiled from experiences described in biographies, videos, discussions and research studies. This is not intended to be medical advice. For your particular situation, contact your doctor. Do not try these if they are in any way uncomfortable.

The movements listed here are not actions to force movement. They are not the regular exercises done to stretch. These are the gentle touch movements that in some cases have a surprising effect.

Individual results vary widely. Some patients report that a gesture from another category than their own type of dystonia works. Some find that effectiveness of  the gestures changes over time. 

Many patients find that the gesture works nearly immediately or does not work at all. Some say that certain tricks work for one problem and others for another. One trick might reduce left neck tightness and another back neck tightness. Some find that one trick is good just to reduce tremor.

Actions mentioned for several types of dystonia

  • touching cheek
  • pressing down on thigh
  • touching back of head
  • touching chin
  • dancing
  • whistling
  • yawning
  • coughing
  • counting backwards
  • reading a book
  • working at computer
  • burping
  • singing
  • bending forward at the waist
  • chewing gum

Actions mentioned for eye dystonia

  • looking downwards
  • pulling upper eyelid
  • pulling eyebrow
  • touching face beside eye
  • applying slight pressure to eyelid
  • humming
  • painting
  • drinking cold liquid
  • touching forehead
  • wearing tight goggles
  • blowing out the cheeks
  • sucking in
  • massaging the cheek bones
  • pinching back of neck
  • touching nose
  • wearing cap or turban
  • gently covering the eye
  • playing a musical instrument

Actions mentioned for jaw and mouth dystonia

  • putting a straw, toothpick, tongue depressor  or pen  between the teeth
  • brushing teeth
  • flossing teeth
  • touching  tongue to roof of mouth
  • touching lips
  • kissing
  • biting a piece of plastic
  • bending the neck
  • biting the lip

Actions mentioned for vocal cord dystonia

  • speaking in falsetto voice
  • shouting
  • singing
  • smiling when speaking
  • having loud radio noise on in background when speaking
  • standing when speaking
  • grimacing
  • talking in baby talk
  • having a sip of wine before speaking
  • talking extra loudly as if angrily
  • laughing
  • not clearing my throat of mucus when congested
  • better after I had laryngitis
  • better when I have a cold
  • better when my vocal cords were swollen and touched each other
  • better when I had swollen glands
  • raising one arm
  • touching side of neck
  • putting peg on finger
  • humming
  • blowing raspberries

Actions mentioned for neck dystonia

  • touching temple
  • touching between the eyes
  • touching the eyebrow
  • touching top of the head
  • pinching the neck
  • touching centre of cheek
  • touching skin in front of ear
  • leaning elbows on an armrest
  • looking at oneself in the mirror
  • touching nose
  • touching crook of jaw
  • touching back of neck at base
  • touching middle of ear
  • visually fixating on some object
  • focusing on a stationary object while walking
  • wearing a collar
  • wearing  a scarf
  • resting the back of the neck on a wall or cushion
  • cupping arm around head
  • scrunching shoulders when walking
  • alternating shoulder scrunches when walking
  • tickling but not massaging the muscle
  • pounding the shoulder

Actions mentioned for shoulder and arm dystonia

  • touching the arm with the other hand
  • touching the shoulder with the other hand
  • playing pool
  • playing basketball
  • playing baseball

Actions mentioned for hand, finger dystonia

  • touching the wrist with the other hand
  • touching one hand with the other hand
  • writing upside down
  • immersing the hand a few minutes in cold water
  • writing with a closed fist
  • holding pen between index finger and thumb vertically
  • writing with chalk
  • writing with larger motions and swirls
  • writing using shorthand
  • switching hands to write
  • looking in the mirror when writing
  • typing
  • playing the piano
  • digging around in the garden
  • using scissors
  • doing jigsaw puzzles
  • gripping a baseball bat
  • holding a golf club
  • switching hands to use a screwdriver
  • switching hands to brush the teeth
  • coloring

Actions mentioned for leg, foot dystonia

  • walking backwards
  • walking up stairs
  • walking sideways
  • running backwards
  • running up stairs
  • running sideways
  • bouncing ball against wall and retrieving it
  • doing jumping jacks
  • while walking, putting left hand on left knee and right hand on right knee
  • riding a bicycle
  • holding hands over the head
  • running a track in another direction- eg counter-clockwise
  • applying pressure hand to hip
  • walking on beach sand
  • wearing a low slung backpack

Actions mentioned for trunk dystonia

  • raising arms out from side of body
  • swinging arms while walking
  • rubbing the back against the wall while walking
  • putting books on top of the head
  • resting  back of head against wall when sitting
  • resting back of head against wall when standing
  • touching chin with both hands clenched into a fist
  • folding arms across chest
  • touching centre of sternum

Actions mentioned for reducing tremor

  • touching spoon to tongue
  • touching skin fold between thumb and first finger
  • holding objects like pencils in the fist
  • gently biting the tongue

Note: research studies indicate great interest in these ‘tricks’. Some people have discovered theirs only after hearing of them in a doctor’s office. Study of the mechanics of them may hold a real a secret to understanding dystonia. If you have experienced other ‘tricks’ to add to this list, you are invited to describe them. See the contact page.