Cervical Dystonia

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What is cervical dystonia?

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.

Funding and support for this material have been provided by Allergan.


What are the symptoms of cervical dystonia?

Along with the contraction (shortening) of neck muscles, symptoms of cervical dystonia include:

  • Pain that radiates through the neck and shoulders
  • Severe headaches
  • Tremor

Causes & Risk Factors

Who is at risk for cervical dystonia?

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.

What causes cervical dystonia?

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.

Diagnosis & Tests

How can my doctor tell if I have cervical dystonia?

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.


How is cervical dystonia treated?

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.

Will cervical dystonia go away over time?

No. Cervical dystonia is a life-long disorder. However, some people who have cervical dystonia may experience periods of time without any symptoms (remission).

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

  • How can physical therapy help cervical dystonia? Can you show me some exercises that will help?
  • My mother had cervical dystonia. Am I at risk of getting it? Can I pass it down to my children?
  • Could cervical dystonia be a symptom of another condition?
  • Will I have to have surgery to treat this condition?
  • What types of medicines are you used to treat cervical dystonia?


  • Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Cervical dystonia. Accessed 06/16/09
  • National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Dystonias fact sheet. Accessed 06/17/10
  • Dystonia Medical Research Foundation. Cervical dystonia. Accessed 06/16/10
  • We Move Worldwide Education and Awareness for Movement Disorders. Cervical dystonia information for patients and caregivers. Accessed 06/16/10
  • 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)

Funding and support for this material have been provided by Allergan.