Movement Disorders in Schizophrenia

It is not uncommon for people with schizophrenia to exhibit abnormal movements. These may include rocking, pacing, posturing, strange mannerisms, repetitive moments which serve no purpose, or what is known as “apathetic immobility”. They may even have a movement disorder.

A movement disorder is a condition in which the person is unable to execute and control certain movements, or it is very difficult for them to do so. They are often seen, for example, in individuals with Parkinson’s disease.

Sterotypic movement disorder

In schizophrenia, a type of movement disorder known as stereotypic movement disorder may occasionally be observed. Stereotypic behavior involves repetitive movements which have no actual function – in other words, the movement doesn’t accomplish anything, such as hand flapping, rocking, or pacing. The movement seems to be driven. This type of movement disorder is especially problematic because it can lead to injury to the person him/herself as well as someone nearby. According to a 2006 study, stereotyped behaviors usually appear in schizophrenia’s later stages, rather than early in the illness 1.

Catatonic Stupor

Catatonic schizophrenia specifically includes many oddities in movement, including stereotypic movements. Individuals with catatonic schizophrenia may become completely non-responsive and not move at all. This is known as a catatonic stupor. If someone tries to move them, they may be resistant. They may also have what is called “waxy flexibility”. For example, if someone lifts up the person’s arm, s/he will hold it in that position until moved again.

Catatonic schizophrenics may also exhibit the other extreme, in which they engage in agitated, often repetitive movement (catatonic excitement). They may also mimic the movements (echopraxia) or words (echolalia) of someone nearby. Catatonic schizophrenics may take on unusual postures as well.

written by Dr. Cheryl Lane, PsyD


  1. Stereotypy in schizophrenia