Date: 25 Feb 2014

Treatment of Functional Motor Disorders

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Opinion statement

For the treatment of functional motor disorder, we recommend a three-stage approach. Firstly, patients must be assessed and given an unambiguous diagnosis, with an explanation that helps them understand that they have a genuine disorder, with the potential for reversibility. A key ingredient is allowing the patients to describe all of their symptoms as well as their ideas about what may be wrong. The patient should clearly understand that the positive diagnosis is based on the presence of typical signs (e.g., Hoover's sign for paralysis, entrainment test for tremor) that, in and of themselves, indicate the potential for reversibility. We suggest an approach that avoids the assumption that psychological stressors in the patient's life are causing the symptoms. The symptoms themselves are often the main stressor. Insisting that there must be others often leads to a frustrated doctor and an angry patient. Rather, at this initial stage, we encourage exploration of mechanisms – e.g., triggering of symptoms by pain, injury, or dissociation – and a discussion of how symptoms manifest as "abnormal motor programs" in the nervous system.

Secondly, further time spent exploring the diagnosis, treating comorbidity, and, in the context of a multidisciplinary team, experimenting with altered movements and behaviors may benefit some patients, without the need for more complex intervention.

Thirdly, some patients do require more complex treatment, often with a combination of physical rehabilitation and psychological treatments. Hypnosis, sedation, and transcranial magnetic stimulation may have a role in select patients.

Finally, although they have confidence in the diagnosis, many patients do not respond to treatment. Ultimately, however, patients with functional motor disorder may have much greater potential for recovery than health professionals often consider.

This article is part of the Topical Collection on Movement Disorders
Jeannette M. Gelauff and Yasmine E.M. Dreissen contributed equally to this work