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 backward. The muscles are tightened and held rigidly. This type of posturing usually means there has been severe damage to the brain.
A severe injury to the brain is the usual cause of decerebrate posture.
Opisthotonos (a severe muscle spasm of the neck and back) may occur in severe cases of decerebrate posture.
Decerebrate posture can occur on one side, on both sides, or in just the arms. It may alternate with another type of abnormal posture called decorticate posture. A person can also have decorticate posture on one side of the body and decerebrate posture on the other side.
Causes of decerebrate posture include:
Conditions related to decerebrate posture need to be treated right away in a hospital.
Abnormal posturing of any kind usually occurs with a reduced level of alertness. Anyone who has an abnormal posture should be examined right away by a health care provider.
The person will need emergency treatment right away. 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 stable, the provider will obtain a complete medical history from family members or friends and do a more complete physical examination. This will include a careful examination of the brain and nervous system.
Family members will be asked questions about the person's medical history, including:
Tests may include:
The outlook depends on the cause. There may be brain and nervous system injury and permanent brain damage, which can lead to:
Reviewed By: Alireza Minagar, MD, MBA, Professor, Department of Neurology, LSU Health Sciences Center, Shreveport, LA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.