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Definition Return to top
Decerebrate posture is an abnormal body posture that involves the arms and legs being held straight out, the toes being pointed downward, and the head and neck being arched backwards. The muscles are tightened and held rigidly. This type of posturing usually means there has been severe damage to the brain.
Considerations Return to top
A severe injury to the brain at the level of the brainstem is the usual cause of decerebrate posture.
Opisthotonos (a severe muscle spasm of the neck and back) may accompany decerebrate posture in severe cases.
Decerebrate posture can occur on one side, on both sides, or in just the arms. It may alternate with decorticate posture (abnormal posturing due to corticospinal tract injury), or a person can have decorticate posture on one side and decerebrate posture on the other.
Causes Return to top
Home Care Return to top
Conditions associated with decerebrate posture require immediate hospital treatment.
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Abnormal posturing of any sort is usually associated with reduced level of consciousness (alertness). Anyone who has an abnormal posture should be examined promptly by a health care provider.
What to Expect at Your Office Visit Return to top
Emergency measures may begin immediately. This includes breathing assistance and placement of a breathing tube. The person will likely be admitted to the hospital and placed in intensive care.
Once the person is stabilized, the health care provider will perform a more extensive physical exam. The physical exam will include a complete neurological assessment.
Family members will be asked questions about the person's medical history, including:
Diagnostic testing may include:
The outlook depends on the cause. Permanent brain damage may often result, leading to long-term neurologic deficits such as coma, inability to communicate, paralysis, or seizures.Update Date: 4/21/2009 Updated by: Jacob L. Heller, MD, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington, Clinic. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.