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
Types of Abnormal Posturing
There are three main types of postures that may be seen 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, and clenched fists.
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
When to Call Your Doctor
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.
Causes of Abnormal Posturing
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.
Diagnosing and Treating Abnormal Posturing
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:
- an electroencephalogram,
which allows your doctor to measure the electrical activity in your brain and identify
potential problems associated with this activity
- a cerebral angiography, which involves the use of a
contrast dye to determine how blood is
flowing through your brain
- imaging tests, such as X-rays and CT scans, which produce detailed
images of the brain to show swelling and inflammation inside of the brain
pressure monitoring, which allows your doctor to 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.
Preventing Abnormal Posturing
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:
a helmet or head gear when participating in risky sports or behaviors
giving children aspirin without their doctor’s approval
a medication to prevent malaria if you’re traveling to regions where the
disease is prevalent, such as Africa or South America
You should also take steps to prevent blood clots from
forming and potentially causing a stroke. These steps include:
blood sugar levels
smoking if you smoke
at least three times per week
Talk to your doctor about additional ways you can lower your
risk for abnormal posturing.