Diagnosing Movement Disorders

An accurate diagnosis is important for managing symptoms caused by movement disorders. NYU Langone neurologists are experts at distinguishing between the different types of movement disorders

To diagnose a movement disorder, your doctor first takes a medical history. He or she asks whether anyone in your family has had a movement disorder or another neurological disorder, since they can be hereditary. 

Your doctor also conducts a physical exam, which can help him or her pinpoint the type and location of the movement problems and observe any visible tremors. He or she also performs a variety of other diagnostic tests. NYU Langone doctors use the results of these tests to create a customized plan to help you manage symptoms. 

Neurological Exam

A neurological exam helps your doctor evaluate your thinking and memory skills, which can also sometimes be affected by neurological disorders. He or she may also ask you to walk a short distance to check for any problems with your gait, which can signal other conditions with symptoms similar to movement disorders, such as normal pressure hydrocephalus

Your doctor may check your motor skills and reflexes, since some people with movement disorders have problems with coordination and walking. He or she also evaluates your senses.

MRI Scan

An MRI scan uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create computerized, three-dimensional images of structures in the body. Your doctor may order an MRI to evaluate the muscles and bones in the part of your body with the movement problems. An MRI may also help rule out other conditions with similar symptoms, such as multiple sclerosis.

Electromyography

Electromyography (EMG) tests how well the nerves and muscles work together by measuring the electrical impulses along nerves, nerve roots, and muscle tissue. Your doctor may perform electrical testing of nerve function to determine whether you have an essential tremor or another type of tremor. 

To perform this test, the doctor inserts a tiny needle that conducts electrical current, called an electrode, through the skin and into the muscle. This allows your doctor to measure the amount of electricity muscle cells generate when they become activated by a nerve impulse. In people who have movement disorders, the muscle fibers may not respond as well to repeated electrical stimulation as normally functioning muscles do.

The results of an electromyography test can help doctors distinguish between movement disorders such as dystonia and essential tremor, and other conditions that cause unwanted muscle movements, such as Parkinson’s disease.

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