Upper Extremity Dystonia Features in People With Spastic Cerebral Palsy

Laura A. Gilbert, Sushma Gandham, Keisuke Ueda, Keerthana Chintalapati, Toni Pearson, Bhooma R. Aravamuthan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background and Objectives: Dystonia in cerebral palsy (CP) is debilitating and common, but underdiagnosed, especially when coexistent with spasticity. With dedicated research-based assessment, dystonia is found in most people with spastic CP but is only clinically diagnosed in the minority. To begin addressing the high rates of dystonia underdiagnosis in this population, we determined the key feature experts use to assess upper extremity dystonia in people with spastic CP. Methods: In this prospective cohort study, 3 pediatric movement disorder specialists assessed upper extremity dystonia in neurologic examination videos of people with spastic CP and isolated periventricular leukomalacia (PVL) on brain MRI (i.e., those with a brain injury pattern typical for spastic CP). Dystonia severity was rated using the 10-point Global Dystonia Severity Rating Scale, first by each expert independently and then again after consensus-building discussion. Conventional content analysis of these discussions revealed salient features ("codes") that experts used to assess upper extremity dystonia. Code frequency distributions were compared between dystonia severity categories using χ2 tests. Results: We identified 96 people with spastic CP with isolated PVL on brain MRI seen in the St. Louis Children's Hospital CP Center between 2005 and 2018. Of them, 26 people were able and willing to be recorded while doing a standardized set of upper extremity examination maneuvers (age 4-25 years; 28% nonambulatory, 77% White). When assessing their videos, experts cited the "hand"less often and "shoulder"more often with increasing dystonia severity (p < 0.005, χ2 test). "Mirror movements"and the "hand open/close"examination maneuver were cited significantly more frequently in videos when experts were attempting to distinguish between no dystonia and mild dystonia (p < 0.005). Discussion Expert clinicians use distinct movement features to assess upper extremity dystonia in people with spastic CP and PVL. Attention to involuntary shoulder (vs hand) movements can help gauge dystonia severity. Differentiation between mirror movements and dystonia, particularly during the hand open/close examination maneuver, may help identify mild dystonia. These results can help guide upper extremity dystonia assessment in people with spastic CP, thus potentially helping mitigate dystonia underdiagnosis.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere200207
JournalNeurology: Clinical Practice
Issue number6
StatePublished - 29 Dec 2023
Externally publishedYes


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