What is a Movement Disorder Specialist?

Dystonia is a disorder that disrupts the body’s ability to move normally. It may come as a surprise to new patients that there is a subspecialty of medical doctors who have dedicated their careers to caring for people with movement disorders and researching these specific neurological problems.

A movement disorder specialist is a neurologist with intensive training and experience specifically in movement disorders. Although movement disorders have been documented for thousands of years, movement disorders as a field is relatively new in neurology.

  • Ataxia
  • Dystonia
  • Huntington's disease and chorea
  • Parkinson's disease and parkinsonism
  • Myoclonus
  • Restless legs syndrome
  • Stiff Person Spectrum Disorder
  • Tics and Tourette syndrome
  • Tremors

Following medical school, a neurologist’s training includes a one-year internship in internal medicine (or two years of pediatrics for child neurologists) and at least three years of specialized residency training in neurology. Many neurologists invest one or two additional years of fellowship training in a wide variety of subspecialties—movement disorders is one example. Many fellowships involve a combination of both patient care and research.

A movement disorder specialist is an essential member of the health care team of an individual with dystonia. Primary care providers, neurologists, physical or occupational therapists, mental health professionals, and additional specialists may also have important roles in contributing to and implementing a comprehensive treatment plan.

“I have had good treatment from a regular neurologist but my movement disorder neurologist is more knowledgeable about dystonia and does a better job injecting botulinum neurotoxin. I switched to the specialist and have been happy with the change.”

The DMRF sponsors one-year clinical fellowships to train second-year fellow physicians in the diagnosis and treatment of movement disorders with special competence in dystonia. DMRF clinical fellowships focus on training in both the clinical evaluation and care of patients with dystonia and clinical research on dystonia. The training is patient-oriented and includes hands-on experience in clinics as well as participation in professional meetings and workshops.

In recent years, there has been tremendous advancements in new diagnostic information, pharmacological and neurosurgical treatments for movement disorders as well as a greater understanding of the underlying causes. General neurologists, or neurologists in other subspecialties, cannot necessarily be expected to have background in movement disorders or be immersed in the latest dystonia research advancements. Some otolaryngologists, speech-language pathologists, neuro-ophthalmologists, ophthalmologists, and other health care providers may be qualified to diagnose and/or treat specific types of dystonia, depending on their training and experience.

Tips for Locating a Movement Disorder Specialist

  • A credential to identify a movement disorder specialist is that the physician has completed clinical fellowship training specifically in ‘movement disorders.’
  • DMRF offers a voluntary directory of physicians who treat dystonia.
  • Child neurologists with expertise in movement disorders may be challenging to locate. Some movement disorder clinics treat children while others may refer young patients to an affiliated child neurology program.

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