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Autonomic Movements vs. Paratonic Movements: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on February 11, 2024
Autonomic movements are involuntary and self-regulated, while paratonic movements are responses to external stimuli, often manifesting as resistance or rigidity.

Key Differences

Autonomic movements are inherent physiological actions, like heartbeat or digestion, that occur without conscious control. Paratonic movements, in contrast, are reactions to external forces, often observed as muscle resistance or rigidity in response to applied movements.
The origin of autonomic movements lies within the body's internal systems and are regulated by the autonomic nervous system. Paratonic movements arise as a result of external physical stimuli and are a form of reflexive muscle activity.
Examples of autonomic movements include the blinking of eyes and intestinal peristalsis. Paratonic movements are exemplified by the increase in muscle tone when a limb is moved passively by another person or an external force.
In medical assessments, autonomic movements are indicators of the body's involuntary functions, whereas paratonic movements are assessed to understand muscle response and neurological conditions.
Autonomic movements adapt to the body's internal needs without conscious effort, while paratonic movements represent the body's adaptive response to external mechanical changes.

Comparison Chart


Involuntary, self-regulated
Reflexive response to external stimuli


Controlled by the autonomic nervous system
Result of external force or manipulation


Heartbeat, digestion, pupil dilation
Muscle rigidity or resistance in response to movement

Clinical Importance

Indicate internal body functions
Assessed for muscle tone and neurological health

Reaction Mechanism

Autonomous response to internal conditions
Reactive to physical manipulation

Autonomic Movements and Paratonic Movements Definitions

Autonomic Movements

Essential for maintaining life without conscious effort.
Blood circulation is an autonomic movement crucial for survival.

Paratonic Movements

Increased muscle tone as a reaction to being moved.
Her leg's paratonic movement made passive stretching difficult.

Autonomic Movements

Involuntary bodily functions regulated internally.
The dilation of pupils in dim light is an autonomic movement.

Paratonic Movements

Muscle resistance in response to external manipulation.
When the doctor moved his arm, paratonic movement was observed.

Autonomic Movements

Physiological processes independent of conscious control.
Digestive processes are autonomic movements.

Paratonic Movements

Demonstrates involuntary resistance against movement.
Neurological examination often checks for paratonic movements.

Autonomic Movements

Actions not consciously controlled, like breathing.
Breathing continues as an autonomic movement during sleep.

Paratonic Movements

A sign of altered neurological function.
The patient's paratonic movement indicated potential neural impairment.

Autonomic Movements

Inherent movements like heartbeats.
The heart's rhythm is maintained by autonomic movements.

Paratonic Movements

Reflexive response of muscles to external forces.
Paratonic movements were evident during the physical therapy session.


What defines an autonomic movement?

Movement that occurs involuntarily and is self-regulated.

Are paratonic movements a conscious response?

No, they are involuntary reactions to external stimuli.

What are examples of paratonic movements?

Muscle rigidity or resistance when a limb is moved by an external force.

Can paratonic movements be a sign of disease?

Yes, abnormal paratonic movement can indicate neurological disorders.

What is the clinical relevance of paratonic movements?

They are assessed in neurological examinations to understand muscle and nerve function.

How do autonomic movements function in the body?

They function automatically, controlled by the autonomic nervous system.

Do autonomic movements change with age?

Yes, some autonomic functions can alter with aging.

Can autonomic movements be controlled voluntarily?

Typically no, as they operate independently of conscious thought.

Do emotions affect autonomic movements?

Yes, emotions can influence certain autonomic functions like heart rate.

Can training or therapy alter paratonic movements?

Physical therapy can sometimes help in managing paratonic movements.

How are autonomic movements regulated?

They are regulated by the autonomic nervous system.

Can everyone exhibit paratonic movements?

Most people can under certain physical manipulations.

Can medications affect autonomic movements?

Yes, certain medications can influence autonomic functions like heart rate and digestion.

Is muscle stiffness always a paratonic movement?

Not always; stiffness can have various causes, not just paratonic response.

Is it possible to train the body to control autonomic movements?

To some extent, practices like meditation can influence certain autonomic responses, but many remain largely involuntary.

Are all involuntary movements autonomic?

Not all; some involuntary movements are reflexive responses like paratonic movements.

Is there a genetic aspect to autonomic movements?

Some autonomic functions can be influenced by genetics, like predispositions to certain heart rates or metabolic rates.

Are paratonic movements always abnormal?

They can be normal in certain physical states or indicate a condition.

How do stress and relaxation affect autonomic movements?

They can influence functions like heart rate and breathing.

Can autonomic movements be observed directly?

Some, like pupil dilation, can be observed; others occur internally.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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