Psychogenic movement disorders in children and adolescents: an update

  • Susan R. Harris
Short Communication


This short communication provides an update on childhood psychogenic movement disorders (PMD), focusing on descriptive studies and case reports from 2008 to 2018. Known also as functional movement/motor disorders, PMD diagnoses are relatively common in adults but less so in children. In group studies over the past decade, sample prevalence of childhood PMD ranged from 2.8 to 23.1%, with a higher percentage of girls in most studies (consistent with adult PMD literature). Common types of PMD included tremor (32.4%), dystonia (29.5%), and myoclonus (24.3%). Precipitating events for PMD onset included H1N1 influenza vaccinations, family/child stressors, anxiety/depression in the child or parent, panic attacks, behavior disorders, injury or accident, sexual abuse of the child or family member, death of a close relative, parental discord, domestic violence, school-related problems, medical illness/surgery, sleep disturbance, and participation in competitive sport or dance. The most frequently mentioned treatments were cognitive behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, relaxation techniques, and physiotherapy.

Conclusion: Although additional cases of childhood PMD have been published over the past decade, little new information has appeared. There is still no “diagnostic gold standard,” making an accurate estimate of prevalence virtually impossible and contributing to confusion among pediatricians when trying to identify children with PMD.

What is Known:

• Psychogenic movement disorders (PMD) occur in children as well as adults.

• The most common types of childhood PMD are tremor, dystonia, and myoclonus.

What is New:

• The most common childhood PMD treatments were cognitive behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, physiotherapy, and relaxation techniques (2008–2018).

• Due to lack of a standardized definition for PMD, confusion exists as to which movement disorders to include. With the inability to reliably diagnose PMD and the ambiguity as to which movement disorders it comprises, it is difficult to determine the most effective treatments.


Psychogenic movement disorder Children Functional motor disorder 



Cognitive behavioral therapy


Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition


National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences


Psychogenic movement disorder


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that she has no conflicts of interest.

Ethical approval

Not applicable.

Informed consent

Not applicable.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Physical Therapy, Faculty of MedicineUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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