Updated 19 July 2017

Ritalin helps movement problems in ADHD

Just one dose of the ADHD drug methylphenidate can temporarily improve affected children's muscular control and movement, a small study shows.

Just one dose of the ADHD drug methylphenidate can temporarily improve affected children's muscular control and movement, a small study shows.

The study, reported in the online journal Behavioral and Brain Functions, focused on 24 boys newly diagnosed with hyperkinetic disorder (HKD), a diagnosis nearly identical to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder-combined type (ADHD-C).

In this form of ADHD, children not only have attention problems, but also act impulsively, have difficulty sitting still and otherwise controlling their movement.

Norwegian researchers looked at the effects of a single dose of methylphenidate - best known by the brand-name Ritalin - on the boys' movement control.

Muscle tension
Children with ADHD-C commonly have increased muscle tension, which can hinder normal movement.

This, in turn, may manifest as problems such as stiffness, restlessness as a child repeatedly shifts to get comfortable, and even poor handwriting, explained Liv Larsen Stray of the University of Stavanger, the lead researcher on the study.

"Our study shows that a single dose of methylphenidate typically led to improvement of the muscular tone, and to a more fluent movement in children with ADHD-C/HKD," Stray told Reuters Health.

For the study, the researchers observed 24 8- to 12-year-old boys with ADHD-C/HKD on two separate days. On each day, the children underwent tests of their coordination, balance and movement control. On one day, the boys took the tests before and 90 minutes after a dose of methylphenidate; on the other day, they were given an inactive placebo instead of the drug.

In general, Stray's team found, the boys' test performance benefited from the dose of methylphenidate, with temporary improvements in activities like throwing a ball or holding a leg in the air.

There were also improvements in "thumb movement," the researchers note, which may - along with better elbow and shoulder movement - explain why children's handwriting often improves once they start methylphenidate.

The findings, the researchers write, suggest that movement-related difficulties "may be a more integrated part of the core problems" of ADHD than generally thought.

Movement problems
According to Stray, relatively little has been known about the specific effects of methylphenidate on movement problems in ADHD.

"Our study," the researcher said, "suggests that methylphenidate has a much broader and more immediate positive impact on muscular function and motor control in ADHD than hitherto believed." (Reuters Health, June 2009)

Source: Behavioral and Brain Functions


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Dr Renata Schoeman has been in full-time private practice as a general psychiatrist (child, adolescent and adult psychiatry) since 2008, currently based in Oude Westhof (Bellville). Renata also holds appointments as senior lecturer in Leadership (USB) and as a virtual faculty member of USB Executive Development’s Neuroleadership programme. She serves on the advisory boards of various pharmaceutical companies, as a director of the Psychiatric Management Group (PsychMG) and is the co-convenor of the South African Society of Psychiatrist (SASOP) special interest group for adult ADHD, and co-founder of the Goldilocks and The Bear Foundation ( She is passionate about corporate mental health awareness and uses her neuroscience background to assist leaders in equipping them to become balanced, healthy and dynamic leaders that take their own and their team’s emotional, intellectual, social health and physical needs into account. Renata is academically active and enjoys research and collaborative work, has published in many peer-reviewed journals, and has presented at local and international congresses. She is regularly invited to present at conferences and to engage with the media. During her post-graduate studies, she trained at Harvard, Boston in neurocognition and neuroimaging. Her awards include, amongst others, the Young Minds in Psychiatry award from the American Psychiatric Association, the Discovery Foundation Fellowship award, a Thuthuka award from the NRF, and a MRC Fellowship. She also received the Top MBA student award and the Director’s award from USB for 2015. She was a finalist for the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa’s Businesswoman of the Year Award for 2016, and received the Excellence in Media Work award from SASOP during 2016.

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