Abnormal posturing - Overview
Pathologic posturing; Evaluating a person in a coma
Definition of Abnormal posturing:
Abnormal posturing is different from "bad posture" or "slouching." Instead, it involves holding a body position, or moving one or more parts of the body in a certain way.
Abnormal posturing may be a sign of certain injuries to the brain or spinal cord.
Abnormal posturing that occurs with little stimulation is a sign of serious central nervous system damage. Problems with or damage to the nervous system may appear as posturing when a person does certain tasks, such as walking on the sides of the feet, toes, or heels.
Normally when a muscle contracts, the muscles on the opposite side of the joint offer resistance to the contraction. Abnormal posturing occurs when damage to the central nervous system (brain or spinal cord) reduces or prevents opposition to muscle contraction in certain muscle groups.
See the following types of abnormal postures:
- Decerebrate posture -- the arms and legs are out straight and rigid, the toes point downward, and the head arches backward
- Decorticate posture -- the body is rigid, the arms out straight, the fists are tight, and the legs are straight out
- Opisthotonos -- the back is rigid and arching and the head is thrown backwards
An affected person may alternate between different postures as the condition changes.
Injury or swelling of a part of the brain, spinal cord, or nervous system is the most common cause of abnormal posturing. The type of posturing depends on the type and area of the nervous system involved.
- Reviewed last on: 2/5/2011
- David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by Joseph V. Campellone, MD, Division of Neurology, Cooper University Hospital, Camden, NJ. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
Berger JR. Stupor and coma. In: Bradley WG, Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, eds. Bradley: Neurology in Clinical Practice. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Butterworth-Heinemann Elsevier; 2008:chap 5.
Bleck T. Levels of consciousness and attention. In: Goetz, CG, ed. Textbook of Clinical Neurology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 1.
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