Definition

What is cervical dystonia?

Cervical dystonia, also called spasmodic torticollis, is a painful condition in which your neck muscles contract involuntarily, causing your head to twist or turn to one side. Cervical dystonia can also cause your head to uncontrollably tilt forward or backward.

How common is cervical dystonia?

Cervical dystonia typically occurs in middle-aged individuals. It has, though, been reported in people of all ages, women more than men. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of cervical dystonia?

The common symptoms of cervical dystonia are:

  • Chin toward shoulder
  • Ear toward shoulder
  • Chin straight up
  • Chin straight down

The most common type of twisting associated with cervical dystonia is when your chin is pulled toward your shoulder. Some people experience a combination of abnormal head postures. A jerking motion of the head also may occur.

Many people who have cervical dystonia also experience neck pain that can radiate into the shoulders. The disorder also can cause headaches. In some people, the pain from cervical dystonia can be exhausting and disabling.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes cervical dystonia?

In most cases of cervical dystonia, the cause is unknown. Some people who have cervical dystonia have a family history of the disorder, so a genetic component may be a factor. Cervical dystonia is sometimes linked to head, neck or shoulder injuries.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for cervical dystonia?

There are many risk factors for cervical dystonia, such as:

  • While the disorder can occur in people of any age, it most commonly begins after age 30.
  • Your sex. Women are more likely to develop cervical dystonia than are men.
  • Family history. If a close family member has cervical dystonia or some other type of dystonia, you are at higher risk of developing the disorder.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is cervical dystonia diagnosed?

While the physical examination alone can often confirm a diagnosis of cervical dystonia, your doctor might suggest blood tests or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to rule out any underlying conditions causing your signs and symptoms.

How is cervical dystonia treated?

There is no cure for cervical dystonia. In some people, signs and symptoms may disappear without treatment, but recurrence is common. Treatment focuses on relieving the signs and symptoms.

Medications

Botulinum toxin, a paralyzing agent often used to smooth facial wrinkles, can be injected directly into the neck muscles affected by cervical dystonia. Examples of botulinum toxin drugs include Botox, Dysport, Xeomin and Myobloc.

Most people with cervical dystonia see an improvement with these injections, which usually must be repeated every three to four months.

To improve results or to help reduce the dosage and frequency of botulinum toxin injections, your doctor might also suggest oral medications that have a muscle-relaxing effect.

Therapy

Sensory tricks, such as touching the opposite side of your face or the back of your head, may cause spasms to stop temporarily. Different sensory tricks work for different people, but they often lose effectiveness as the disease progresses.

Heat packs and massage can help relax your neck and shoulder muscles. Exercises that improve neck strength and flexibility may also be helpful.

The signs and symptoms of cervical dystonia tend to worsen when you’re stressed, so learning stress management techniques is also important.

Surgical and other procedures

If less invasive treatments don’t help, your doctor might suggest surgery. Procedures may include:

  • Deep brain stimulation. In this procedure, a thin wire is guided into the brain through a small hole cut into the skull. The tip of the wire is placed in the portion of the brain that controls movement. Electrical pulses are sent through the wire to interrupt the nerve signals making your head twist.
  • Cutting the nerves. Another option is to surgically sever the nerves carrying the contraction signals to the affected muscles.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage cervical dystonia?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with cervical dystonia:

Severe cases of cervical dystonia may make you feel uncomfortable in social situations or even limit your abilities to accomplish everyday tasks such as driving. Many people with cervical dystonia feel isolated and depressed.

Remember that you’re not alone. A number of organizations and support groups are dedicated to providing information and support for you and your family — whether you have the disorder or you have a friend or family member who does.

Your doctor may be able to suggest support groups available in your area, or there are a number of good sites on the internet with information about local support groups.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: September 18, 2017 | Last Modified: September 18, 2017

Want to live your best life?
Get the Hello Doktor Daily newsletter for health tips, wellness updates and more.