What is focal dystonia?: It's when the symptoms of dystonia are isolated to one area of the body. Dystonia can be global, in one or two areas, or in adjacent areas. Task related dystonia, or in our cause, Musicians' Dystonia, can affect the areas involved in music making, including the embouchure, the hands and arms, or mouth and lips of singers. No one knows why some people are prone to this more than others.
Signs of Dystonia by neurologist Dr. Steven Frucht (edited from Janet Horvath's Playing Less Hurt):
1. Small lapses in the usually instinctive ability to perform on your instrument.
2. Over the course of months, the performance problems become wrose.
3. Neither decreasing practice nor taking time off helps.
4. There is limited pain.
5. Pianists often have symptoms in the right hand, string players in the left, woodwinds in the embouchure or hands, and brass players in the mouth and jaw.
6. Playing your instrument triggers the muscle spasms, and few other activities do (i.e., dystonia is task specfic).
7. Massage, acupuncture, and muscle based treatments do not usually provide relief since dystonia is a neurological disorder.
For musicians, dystonia arises mostly in adult professionals, with more cases in men than women.
Why is dystonia treated with botox shots? The most common treatment is botox (Botulinum) injections into the affected areas. "First used to treat blepharospasm, such injections are now widely used for treating other focal dystonias. The toxin decreases muscle spasms by blocking release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which normally causes muscles to contract." from National Institute of Neurologic Disorders. On the flip side, there are, as always, risks and side effects, including vision issues, muscle weakness, difficulties swallowing, and the symptoms of the food poisoning disease of botulism. The shots are usually restricted to the localized area of dystonia.