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What is cervical dystonia?
Cervical dystonia is a neurological disorder that causes the muscles in the neck to contract involuntarily. That means without you making them move. This muscle contraction can make your head lean or twist to one side. Your chin may pull up, down, forward, or backward. Your shoulder also can contort up.
The disorder is more common in men than women. It’s more likely to develop during middle age, although it can happen at any age.
Cervical dystonia is also called spasmodic torticollis (ST). It can cause severe pain and discomfort. It often begins slowly, gets worse, and then stabilizes.
What are the symptoms of cervical dystonia?
The main symptom is involuntary muscle contractions in your neck. Other symptoms include:
- Burning pain in your neck and shoulder
- Severe headaches
- Spasms and/or tremors
CAUSES & RISK FACTORS
What causes cervical dystonia?
In many instances, healthcare providers don’t know what causes cervical dystonia. In some cases, people who have a neck injury may develop it. When the cause isn’t known, it’s called primary dystonia.
Secondary dystonia can be caused by disease or injury, such as a stroke, traumatic brain injury, or Parkinson’s disease. 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. Nerve damage from certain medicines is another possible cause.
Both primary and secondary cervical dystonia can be genetic, meaning it runs in families.
DIAGNOSIS & TESTS
How is cervical dystonia diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider may be able to diagnose cervical dystonia by talking to you about your symptoms and by doing a physical examination. Your healthcare provider may want to do some tests to see how your muscles are working. These tests can detect the underlying cause of your muscle contractions. Cervical dystonia can resemble stiff neck, an acute pain, or spasm that goes away.
Can cervical dystonia be prevented or avoided?
Cervical dystonia can’t be prevented or avoided
How is cervical dystonia treated?
There are several treatment options for cervical dystonia. Medicines can help your neck muscles relax and reduce spasms. These include muscle relaxers and certain medicines used to treat Parkinson’s disease. Injections may also help.
Your healthcare provider may also talk to you about physical therapy. Physical therapy is made up of stretching and strengthening exercises. Physical therapy can reduce pain and improve neck posture and movement. Massage and practices to reduce stress also can help with pain and discomfort. Some people use neck or head braces for support.
Severe cases may require surgery.
Living with cervical dystonia
Cervical dystonia is a life-long disorder. There is no cure. However, it doesn’t lower your expected life span. Some people who have cervical dystonia may experience periods of time without any symptoms (remission). If your cervical dystonia causes you pain, work with your healthcare provider to help control it.
There is a small chance of getting dystonia in other parts of your body. It can affect muscles that you voluntarily control.
Try to minimize stress in your life. Even though stress doesn’t cause dystonia, your symptoms may be worse when you’re feeling stressed.