Abnormal movements are frequently encountered in patients with brain injury hospitalized in intensive care units (ICUs), yet characterization of these movements and their underlying pathophysiology is difficult due to the comatose or uncooperative state of the patient. In addition, the available diagnostic approaches are largely derived from outpatients with neurodegenerative or developmental disorders frequently encountered in the outpatient setting, thereby limiting the applicability to inpatients with acute brain injuries. Thus, we reviewed the available literature regarding abnormal movements encountered in acutely ill patients with brain injuries. We classified the brain injury into the following categories: anoxic, vascular, infectious, inflammatory, traumatic, toxic-metabolic, tumor-related and seizures. Then, we identified the abnormal movements seen in each category as well as their epidemiologic, semiologic and clinicopathologic correlates. We propose a practical paradigm that can be applied at the bedside for diagnosing abnormal movements in the ICU. This model seeks to classify observed abnormal movements in light of various patient-specific factors. It begins with classifying the patient's level of consciousness. Then, it integrates the frequency and type of each movement with the availability of ancillary diagnostic tests and the specific etiology of brain injury.