Sensory tricks


Sensory tricks & coping tips

A geste antagoniste is a physical gesture or position (such as touching your chin) which may serve to temporarily interrupt dystonic symptoms.

People with dystonia have let us know that they have found the following sensory tricks / coping tips to be helpful.  We are not able to recommend any of the following ideas but you may choose to give them a try. We have no clinical evidence that they will work universally, and therefore it is up to individuals to choose whether or not they may want to try them out.

Neck dystonia (Cervical dystonia or spasmodic torticollis)

  • Touching the chin, back of the head, neck. cheek or upper face gently can help with neck dystonia (torticollis)
  • The touch is usually (but not always) more effective on the side of the head with the dystonia.  
  • Reclining or sitting with head support.  

Eye dystonia (Blepharospasm)

Some information below is from the US patient advocacy group, the Benign Essential Blepharospasm Research Foundation (BEBRF):

  • Press fingers against the temples, end of the nose, or other parts of your face – need to find the spot that suits you.
  • Use a tight baseball cap, hair band or sweat band around the forehead.
  • Put your head back – close your eyes, or look down.
  • Go in a dark place and try to relax.
  • Gum chewing, whistling, humming, talking, sucking on a straw or singing sometimes keep the eyes open in order to do activities.
  • Reading aloud.
  • Looking down (some people find gardening or cooking helpful because they involve looking down).

Can’t cope with bright light?

  • Block it out
  • Baseball cap, golf visor, sunglasses (especially the ones with thick sides which also cut out the wind)

Voice dystonia (Laryngeal dystonia or spasmodic dysphonia)

The information below is from the US patient advocacy group, the National Spasmodic Dysphonia Association.

What can help:

  • Vocal exercise (humming, speaking slowly, reciting nursery rhymes)
  • Volume control (talking softly or loudly)
  • Feeling relaxed
  • Breathing deeper breaths, exhaling before speaking, not holding onto the breath
  • Environmental control (talking one-on-one, not being interrupted)
  • Using voice early in the morning
  • Sensory gestures (covering eyes, pinching nose)
  • Physical exercise (need to check exercise is appropriate with doctor before trying)
  • Mental aspects ("not thinking about it", keeping a good attitude)
  • Miscellaneous (physical rest, vocal rest, warm liquids, laughing)

What often makes voice quality worse:

  • Stress (being tense, being in a hurry)
  • Speaking on the telephone
  • Speaking in a loud or large space
  • Trying to talk over noise
  • Lack of sleep
  • Negative thinking
  • Miscellaneous (overuse, weather changes, having a cold)

Mouth or jaw (Oromandibular) dystonia

  • Some people find activities like speaking and chewing reduce symptoms (for others they can make it worse)
  • For jaw spasms – a toothpick, chewing gum, or sucking a boiled sweet has helped some people
  • If the mouth is dry, some people found that saliva replacement gel was helpful as it lubricates the mouth and helps prevent infection.  This is available on prescription either via the doctor or dentist.

Writer’s Cramp

Click here for more information:  

  • Changing  penhold  / pen type
  • Using exercises to relax before writing
  • Writing on a slanting surface as it can take the pressure off their wrist

Generalized / abdomen dystonia

  • Tapping the foot slowly in a rhythmic way – was helpful to someone who had generalized dystonia and dystonia affecting internal organs
  • Holding the chin, earlobe, and neck have helped with a person who has dystonia in the abdomen/trunk area

Paroxysmal dystonia

  • Some people with Paroxysmal Dystonia found it very useful to keep a trigger diary to find out what may trigger attacks.  Some types of Paroxysmal can be triggered by exercise, stress, caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, etc
  • Another person found that changes in temperature may be a trigger, so they found that keeping feet warm in the winter and cool in the summer was helpful.  If an attack occurs due to being overheated then applying cold flannel may be helpful.
  • Women have reported that their monthly cycle may have a negative influence on their dystonia.
  • Someone suggested that when attacks are triggered by movement, it may be lessened or sometimes prevented by stopping for a moment when you feel an attack is coming on.
  • Another person suggested that concentrating very hard may help prevent an attack.

Other tricks that may be helpful

  • Squeezing the thumb and finger together rhythmically
  • Squeezing the earlobe (or using a clothes peg)


The contents of these pages are provided only as information and are in no way intended to replace the advice of qualified medical practitioners.  The Dystonia Society strongly advises anyone viewing this material to seek qualified medical advice on all matters relating to the treatment and management of any form of medical condition mentioned.

January 2014.