Abnormal posturing refers to rigid body movements and chronic abnormal positions of the body. This symptom isn’t the same thing as showing poor posture or slumping over.

Rather, it’s a tendency to hold a particular body position or 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.

But with abnormal posturing, 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.

In this article, we’ll cover the different types of abnormal posturing. We’ll look specifically at the different types, as well as how they’re caused, diagnosed, and treated.

There are three main types of postures that may be seen among individuals with abnormal posturing:

Opisthotonos posture

This is a severe muscle spasm that occurs in the neck or the back of the head.

Decorticate posture

This posture is characterized by a stiff body, straight legs, and clenched fists.

Decerebrate posture

This posture is characterized by rigid limbs, pointed toes, and a backward tilt to the head and neck.

Depending on the cause of abnormal posturing, people may alternate between different postures with stimulation or over the course of the condition.

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:

  • fluid buildup in the skull
  • swelling of the brain
  • a direct blow to the head
  • a blood clot or stroke
  • a brain tumor
  • high blood pressure in the brain as a result of malaria
  • meningitis, which is an inflammatory condition caused by a virus or bacterial infection
  • Reye’s syndrome, which is a serious condition that causes sudden swelling in the liver and brain, particularly in children

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.

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. Here are some common tests:

  • An electroencephalogram lets your doctor measure the electrical activity in your brain and identify potential problems associated with this activity.
  • A cerebral angiography involves the use of a contrast dye to determine how blood is flowing through your brain.
  • MRI and CT scans produce detailed images of the brain to show swelling and inflammation inside of the brain
  • Intracranial pressure monitoring lets your doctor assess the amount of pressure inside of your skull.

You’ll need to stay in the intensive care unit until the cause of abnormal posturing is determined and stabilized.

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. Abnormal posturing is a sign of a serious medical condition.

The first step of emergency treatment typically involves inserting a breathing tube into the throat to assist with breathing.

Muscle 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, description of posture, and any recent injuries or trauma.

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.

You should also take steps to prevent blood clots from forming and potentially causing a stroke, which could lead to abnormal posturing. These steps include:

Talk with your doctor about additional ways you can lower your risk for abnormal posturing.

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.