Cervical dystonia (say: serv-ical dis-tone-ee-a) is a condition in which the muscles in the neck contract, twisting the head to one side and pulling the chin to the shoulder. Sometimes the shoulder on the affected side will also be pulled up toward the head. Less often, it can cause the head to be pulled down with the ear toward the shoulder, back or forward. Cervical dystonia is also called spasmodic torticollis. It can be a painful and uncomfortable condition that may begin slowly, grow more severe and may eventually level off.
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Along with the contraction (shortening) of neck muscles, symptoms of cervical dystonia include:
Cervical dystonia may run in families. Women are more likely than men to have this condition. Cervical dystonia usually affects people between 40 and 60 years of age.
Cervical dystonia may be caused by a problem in the basal ganglia. The basal ganglia are the part of the brain that send out messages to start muscle movement. Cervical dystonia may also occur after an injury to the head or neck or after a stroke.
Your doctor may be able to diagnose cervical dystonia by talking to you about your symptoms and by doing a physical examination. Your doctor may want to do some tests to see how your muscles are working. Your doctor may also check to make sure your symptoms aren’t being caused by another problem, such as a tumor.
There are several treatment options for cervical dystonia. Medicines such as muscles relaxers and certain Parkinson’s medicines can help your neck muscles relax. These may help you have fewer spasms. Your doctor may also talk to you about physical therapy. Physical therapy is made up of stretching and strengthening exercises. Physical therapy may help reduce pain and improve posture. Surgery is rarely needed.
No. Cervical dystonia is a life-long disorder. However, some people who have cervical dystonia may experience periods of time without any symptoms (remission).
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Cervical dystonia. Accessed June 16, 2009
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Dystonias fact sheet. Accessed June 17, 2010
Dystonia Medical Research Foundation. Cervical dystonia. Accessed June 16, 2010
We Move Worldwide Education and Awareness for Movement Disorders. Cervical dystonia information for patients and caregivers. Accessed June 16, 2010
Cervical dystonia as an isolated sign of basal ganglia tumour by Schulze-Bonhage A and Ferbert A (J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry, 1995;58:108-109 , http://jnnp.bmj.com/content/58/1/108.extract)
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff