Movement - unpredictable or jerky

Jerky body movements is a condition in which people make fast movements that they cannot control and that have no purpose. These movements interrupt their normal movement or posture.


Typical movements of chorea include:

  • Bending and straightening the fingers and toes
  • Grimacing in the face
  • Raising and lowering the shoulders

This condition can affect one or both sides of the body.

These movements do not usually repeat. They can look like they are being done on purpose, although they are not under the person's control. A person with chorea may look jittery or restless.


There are many possible causes of unpredictable, jerky movements, including:

Some medical illnesses that can cause chorea include:

Other possible causes of chorea include:

  • Benign hereditary chorea (an inherited condition) -- rarely
  • Pregnancy (chorea gravidarum)
  • Tardive dyskinesia (a condition that can be caused by medications such as antipsychotic drugs)

Home Care

Treatment is aimed at the cause of the movements.

  • If the movements are due to medication, the drug should be stopped, if possible.
  • If the movements are due to a medical disease, the disorder should be treated.
  • If the movements are severe and affect the person's life, medications such as amantadine or tetrabenazine may help control them.

Excitement and fatigue can make chorea worse. Rest improves chorea. Try to reduce emotional stress.

Safety measures should also be taken to prevent injury from the involuntary movements.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if you have unexplained body motions that are unpredictable and do not go away.

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

The health care provider will take a medical history and perform a physical examination.

Medical history questions may include:

  • What kind of movement occurs?
  • What part of the body is affected?
  • What other symptoms are present?
  • Is there irritability?
  • Is there weakness or paralysis?
  • Is there restlessness?
  • Is there emotional instability?
  • Are there facial tics?

The health care provider may do a detailed examination of both the nervous and the muscle systems. Tests that may be performed include:

Unpredictable movements may be treated with different medications. Your health care provider will decide which medicine to use based on your symptoms and signs.

Alternative Names

Jerky body movements; Chorea; Muscle - jerky movements (uncontrolled); Hyperkinetic movements


Jankovic J, Lang AE. Movement disorders: diagnosis and assessment. In: Bradley WG, Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, eds. Bradley: Neurology in Clinical Practice. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Butterworth-Heinemann Elsevier; 2008:chap 23.

Lang A. Other movement disorders. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 434.

Subramony SH. Ataxic disorders. In: Bradley WG, Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, eds. Bradley: Neurology in Clinical Practice. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Butterworth-Heinemann Elsevier; 2008:chap 22.

Update Date: 2/5/2012

Reviewed by: 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. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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