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Functional Movement Disorder (FMD): Symptoms & Treatments for Movement Disorders

Updated: Apr 19

Man working on movement and stretching - The Dearing Clinic

Functional Movement Disorder (FMD) is a type of movement disorder caused by a trigger in the brain's movement control system resulting in skewed pathways and reflexes. This can lead to restricted movement, pain, and even abnormal movements.

You may be surprised to learn that a functional movement disorder (FMD) can happen to anyone, anytime. In fact, it happened to me just this past summer when I was playing with my kids and my neighbor’s kids in the pool. 

As I was repeatedly tossing the children in the pool, I realized this repetitive behavior was causing FMD. You see, I have an old injury in my neck, and tossing the kids was causing my neck to get sore. Recognizing the location of the pain, I stopped and relaxed my body. But the damage was done.

I woke up the next morning with a massive spasm in my neck and pain and a tingling sensation extending down my neck and into my hands. There was no doubt about it: That repetitive movement caused an injury and inflammation that resulted in a pinched nerve.

But why did this happen and how did I resolve the issue? Keep reading to learn all about FMD, including what it is, how it occurs, and what to do if it happens to you.

What Is a Movement Disorder?

Before we dive more deeping into functional movement disorders, let’s first answer something a bit more basic: What is a movement disorder?

A movement disorder is a neurological condition that impacts your ability to both control and coordinate certain movements. Movement disorders range in complexity and can result from a variety of causes. In fact, you’re likely aware of some movement disorders already. But not all movement disorders are the same. 

Here’s a quick look at a couple of the more common movement disorders:

  • Dystonia. A movement disorder that causes repetitive and/or twisting movements, dystonia stems from involuntary muscle contractions that can impact either a specific area of the body or multiple areas. It’s also known to cause pain as well as fine motor problems and issues with speech and swallowing.

  • Essential tremor. Unlike Parkinson’s disease, essential tremor isn’t associated with other movement or motor symptoms. But because it causes rhythmic shaking or trembling (usually in your hands), it significantly impacts a person’s quality of life by making it difficult for them to complete daily tasks, such as writing or using utensils.

Movement disorders can be caused by a variety of factors, from genetic mutations to brain injuries to the use of certain medications. Most often, though, they’re caused by old injuries, arthritis, and pain changing your movement patterns through your body’s natural tendency to compensate for these limitations.

What is Functional Movement Disorder (FMD)?

Functional Movement Disorder (FMD) is a type of movement disorder caused by a trigger in the brain's movement control system resulting in skewed pathways and reflexes. This can lead to restricted movement, pain, and even abnormal movements.

FMD is considered a functional disorder, meaning it’s not caused by an underlying disease or injury. Instead, it’s caused by a signal from the brain to the body instructing the body to compensate for a limitation. And when this happens, your risk of recurrent pain increases throughout your life, or until you resync your brain and body.

For example, in my case, I wound up a movement pathway that I used to leverage my ability to toss the kids. As a result, my brain shortened the muscle that I needed to use in an effort to prevent me from causing further damage to my body.

If you’ve ever experienced a crick in your neck, a frozen shoulder, or lower back pain that spreads into your hip and limits movement, you’ve experienced FMD.

It’s important to know that virtually everyone has some form of movement disorder at some point that is technically categorized as FMD. But it’s most common in females who are middle aged or elderly. Additionally, diagnosable FMD has a clear and blatant pathology that requires medication and/or therapy.

Functional Movement Disorder vs. Functional Neurological Disorder

It’s easy to be confused about the difference between functional movement disorder (FMD) and functional neurological disorder (FND). After all, their names are similar and they both involve functional disturbances in the nervous system. 

FMD primarily affects voluntary movements, leading to abnormal and involuntary movements that can resemble those seen in other movement disorders such as Parkinson's disease or dystonia. These movements may include tremors, jerks, or even complete loss of control over specific body parts. 

Meanwhile, FND encompasses a broader range of symptoms that can affect various aspects of the nervous system. People with FND may experience symptoms such as weakness or paralysis in specific body parts. These symptoms can come and go or may be consistent. They can also fluctuate in intensity over time.

Functional Movement Disorder Symptoms

The symptoms of FMD can vary greatly from person to person. Some people may experience mild symptoms that do not significantly impact their daily lives, while others may have severe symptoms that interfere with their ability to perform everyday activities. 

Common symptoms of FMD include:

  • Pain

  • Restricted movement

  • Headaches

  • Brain fog

  • Poor articulation

  • Poor circulation 

  • Tremors

These symptoms can have a significant impact on your quality of life and often require additional treatment and support.

Functional movement disorder (FMD) - The Dearing Clinic

What Causes Movement Disorders?

The exact cause of many movement disorders, including FMD, is not fully understood by the conventional medical community, with research suggesting that a combination of genetic, environmental, and neurological factors may be involved. 

Some people may have a genetic predisposition to movement disorders, while others may develop them as a result of injuries, infections, or exposure to certain medications or toxins.

While the exact cause of FMD is still not fully understood, it’s clear that it and other functional movement disorders occur when the pathways between your brain and body become skewed, usually due to an injury.

Functional Movement Disorder Treatment Options

There are a few treatment options for FMD that can help you to resolve pain and regain your normal movement and function. Here are a few of the most effective.

Prioritize calibration. In order to treat FMD, you must first calibrate your body, meaning you have to move every muscle, joint, tendon, and myofascial system to promote their strength and flexibility. This helps to remind your brain of your body’s full range of motion, thereby reducing movement limitations and ongoing pain.

You can begin by stretching first thing in the morning. I’ve found that promoting synchronization between the brain and body is a great way to start the day and ensures your body works in rhythm for the rest of the day.

Practice normal movements. When you engage in normal movements, it helps to “beat” the pain because pain travels slowly while movement travels big and fast. You can do this as part of your morning stretching routine.

Use a topical pain relieve salve. Whenever there’s a certain painful spot, I recommend using a specific salve called MindFlo Salve to help provide pain relief. Just as the name suggests, MindFlo Salve helps to support the connection between your brain and body while also promoting improved blood flow. Remember, from salve to movement, anything that improves your blood flow will promote the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to your brain, further improving the brain-body connection.

While the main ingredient in the salve contains many different types of compounds (limonenes, pinenes, and terpenes) known to both activate the endocannabinoid system and help to cool inflammation, other ingredients in MindFlo Salve also support the brain-body connection. For example, it contains frankincense, cedarwood, and black spruce, all of which are also known to support the inflammation-cooling process.

Consume an anti-inflammatory diet. Eating foods known to cool inflammation has been shown to be highly effective for pain management and movement disorders. In fact, research has shown that the nutrients found in anti-inflammatory foods create a positive brain environment and are associated with a reduced risk of neurological disorders, such as FMD.

Additionally, a 2023 study published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition found that consuming a Mediterranean-based anti-inflammatory diet free of red meat, gluten, and cow's milk improved the physical characteristics and quality of life in patients with chronic pain. This led the researchers to surmise that following an anti-inflammatory diet can improve chronic pain, symptoms of stress and depression, and sleep.

Key Takeaways

  • A functional movement disorder (FMD) is a type of movement disorder caused by a trigger in the brain's movement control system resulting in skewed pathways and reflexes. This often happens as a result of an injury.

  • FMD can lead to restricted movement, pain, and even abnormal movements. And it can happen to anyone at anytime.

  • Common symptoms include pain, restricted movement, brain fog, poor circulation, tremors, and more.

  • The most effective treatment options include recalibrating your body, practicing normal movements, using a topical salve such as MindFlo Salve, and consuming an anti-inflammatory diet.


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