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Abnormal Posturing

What Is Abnormal Posturing?

Abnormal posturing refers to rigid body movements and chronic abnormal positions of the body. This symptom is not the same as showing poor posture or slumping over. Rather, it is often the result of a serious spinal cord or brain injury.

Abnormal posturing results when one muscle contracts and the other muscle fails to offer resistance. This causes atypical movement, such as stiff or arched feet, hands, head, or back.

Types of Abnormal Posturing

There are three main types of postures shown among individuals with abnormal posturing.

Opisthotonos is a posture in which the neck is tilted back and the back is stiff and arched.

Decorticate posture is characterized by a stiff body, straight legs, bent arms held toward the chest, and clenched fists.

Decerebrate posture is characterized by stiff, straight limbs, pointed toes, and a backward tilt to the head and neck.

Depending on the cause, you may change postures with stimulation or over the course of the condition.

When to Call the Doctor

If you notice abnormal posturing, seek medical assistance right away. This symptom is often a sign of a very serious medical condition. Individuals with this symptom may be unconscious, so others need to seek help on their behalf.

Causes of Abnormal Posturing

Abnormal posturing most often results from damage to the brain or spinal cord. The area of the brain or spinal cord affected will dictate the type of posturing you experience.

Other common causes of abnormal posturing, including brain injury or trauma, are listed below.

  • fluid buildup in the skull and swelling of the brain
  • a direct blow to the head
  • malaria-induced high blood pressure in the brain
  • meningitis, a condition caused by a virus or bacterial infection
  • a blood clot or stroke
  • a brain tumor
  • Reye’s syndrome, a condition linked to a virus or aspirin consumption, which primarily affects children.

There are many possible underlying causes of abnormal posturing. Many of these are very serious. It is crucial to seek medical assistance right away. Failure to seek medical attention could result in brain damage and even death.

Diagnosing and Treating Abnormal Posturing

There are no at-home treatments for abnormal posturing. A physician in a hospital setting should treat all types of this condition. Treatment is usually immediate and considered an emergency.

The first step of emergency treatment typically involves inserting a breathing tube to assist in breathing, as muscles spasms, brain trauma, posturing, and other underlying causes may restrict breathing. Once you are stabilized, your doctor can determine what is causing the posturing.

Your physician may ask relatives questions to determine your medical history. Questions may include inquiries about the duration of symptoms, type of posture, injury, or trauma, and any other symptoms observed.

The medical provider will likely conduct a complete physical exam. Determining the cause of abnormal posturing can take time and numerous tests. Common tests include:

  • EEG, which measures electrical activity in the brain
  • intracranial pressure (ICP) monitoring to check pressure inside the skull
  • cerebral angiography, which uses dye to determine how blood is flowing through the brain
  • imaging tests such as X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans to provide pictures of the brain

Treatment usually involves a stay in the intensive care unit until the cause of abnormal posturing is determined and stabilized.

Prevention of Abnormal Posturing

Abnormal posturing is a symptom of an injury, disease, or illness. Ignoring symptoms may cause the underlying condition to worsen. Prevention lies in getting timely treatment.

Other preventative techniques include:

  • wearing a helmet or head gear when participating in risky sports or behaviors
  • not giving children aspirin without their physician’s consent
  • taking a malaria-prevention medication if you are traveling to malaria-endemic regions, such as Africa or South America
  • implementing stroke and blood clot prevention measures, such as controlling blood pressure, stopping smoking, exercising frequently, lowering bad cholesterol, and regulating your diabetes

Content licensed from:

Written by: Suzanne Allen
Published on: Jul 09, 2012on: Mar 08, 2016

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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