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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’s a tendency to hold a particular body position or to move one or more parts of the body in an abnormal way. Many abnormal posturing behaviors are the result of a serious spinal cord or brain injury.
When a muscle contracts, the muscles on the other side of the joint normally offer some resistance to the contraction. In abnormal posturing, however, the muscle groups fail to offer resistance when a muscle contracts. This results in atypical movement of the head or back, or stiff or arched feet.
There are three main types of postures that may be seen among individuals with abnormal posturing:
Depending on the cause of abnormal posturing, people may alternate between different postures with stimulation or over the course of the condition.
Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room if you notice abnormal posturing. This symptom often indicates a very serious medical condition that needs immediate treatment. Some people with this symptom may be unconscious, and you should seek help on their behalf.
Abnormal posturing most often results from damage to the brain or spinal cord. The type of posturing you experience will depend on the specific area of the brain or spinal cord that was affected.
Damage to the central nervous system may occur due to:
There are numerous possible causes of abnormal posturing. Many of these underlying causes are very serious. It’s critical to call 911 or to go to the nearest emergency room right away if you or someone you know is displaying abnormal posturing. Failure to seek medical treatment could result in permanent brain damage and life-threatening complications.
Abnormal posturing can’t be treated at home. A doctor in a hospital setting must treat this condition. Treatment for abnormal posturing is usually immediate and considered an emergency.
The first step of emergency treatment typically involves inserting a breathing tube into the throat to assist with breathing. Muscles spasms, brain trauma, and other causes of abnormal posturing may restrict breathing. Once your condition is stabilized, the doctor can determine the underlying cause of posturing.
To find the underlying cause, the doctor will ask you questions about your medical history. They’ll also ask you about the duration of your symptoms, type of posture, and any recent injuries or trauma.
Once your doctor takes your medical history, they’ll likely conduct a complete physical examination. Determining the exact cause of abnormal posturing can take time and numerous tests. Common tests include:
You’ll need to stay in the intensive care unit until the cause of abnormal posturing is determined and stabilized.
Abnormal posturing is a symptom of an injury, disease, or illness. Ignoring symptoms may cause the underlying condition to get worse. Prevention lies in getting timely treatment.
Other preventive measures include:
You should also take steps to prevent blood clots from forming and potentially causing a stroke. These steps include:
Talk to your doctor about additional ways you can lower your risk for abnormal posturing.
Written by: Suzanne Allen
Medically reviewed on: Mar 08, 2016: Mark R Laflamme, MD
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