Cervical dystonia, also referred to as spasmodic torticollis, is an uncomfortable and often painful condition that causes your neck muscles to contract uncontrollably, resulting in the patient’s head to become twisted or turned to the side.
This condition may also cause the patient’s head to involuntarily tilt backwards or forwards, which is straining on the neck and makes regular activities difficult for the patient.
This rare disorder can come about at any age but is typically seen in middle-aged women. The symptoms usually begin slowly until it reaches a point where the symptoms don’t become worse.
This article will outline everything you need to know about cervical dystonia in order to spot early signs, what the root cause of this disorder is, and how to treat it.
Early Signs and Symptoms of Cervical Dystonia
Mild jerk-like head movements, local neck discomfort, or a stiff neck may be early signs of cervical dystonia.
That being said, there are many other reasons for jerking heads and stiff necks, so before self-diagnosing yourself with this disorder, it’s highly recommended you visit a doctor for a check-up.
The muscle contractions with cervical dystonia may cause your head to turn or twist in a number of directions:
- Ear toward shoulder
- Chin toward shoulder
- Chin straight down
- Chin straight up
The muscle contraction that’s seen the most in cervical dystonia patients is when it causes the chin to be pulled towards the shoulder.
Some patients experience both awkward head postures and a jerking head motion. Most patients also suffer from neck pain that can move to the shoulders. The condition can also result in headaches.
This combination of pain-causing impairments caused by cervical dystonia can be disabling and exhausting to most patients.
Known Causes of Cervical Dystonia
In the majority of cervical dystonia cases, the cause is unknown.
For 10-25% of cases, cervical dystonia is found in the patient’s family history, so genetics are likely to be a factor to the cause.
Cervical dystonia is also sometimes found in patients who have experienced a neck, head, or shoulder injury. However, this cause is still up for debate seeing as cervical dystonia is primarily a neurological disorder.
There are many gene mutations associated with cervical dystonia and many environmental factors as well. At this time, however, there’s no gene-testing process that is recommended for clinics handling patients with this condition.
Some cases involving cervical dystonia may have a secondary cervical dystonia cause. In other words, in some cases, the condition could be a result of using certain drugs. These drugs may include specific nausea medications with dopamine-blocking properties or anti-psychotics.
Complications Associated with Cervical Dystonia
In a few cases, the muscle contractions seen in cervical dystonia patients can move to other areas of the body. These areas include the jaw, face, arms, and trunk of the body.
Patients with cervical dystonia may also begin to experience bone spurs, reducing space within the spinal canal. This may result in tingling, weakness, or numbness of the hands, arms, feet, or legs.
There haven’t been many studies evaluating the long-term complications of the condition. However, there have been studies showing possible cervical spine degeneration, disk herniation, radiculopathies, and vertebral subluxations.
There tends to be more reported complications in cases of generalized dystonia and cerebral palsy than of cervical dystonia.
Cervical Dystonia Treatment
While there’s no cure for cervical dystonia, the disorder sometimes is resolved without treatment. That being said, permanent remissions aren’t as common.
There are a few treatments, both holistic and allopathic, to lessen the effects of the disorder:
- Botulinum toxin injections into the muscles typically reduces the symptoms and signs of cervical dystonia
- Muscle relaxers and specific Parkinson’s medicines
- Physical therapy including various exercises to help strengthen and stretch the muscles. This can help reduce pain and improve neck movement and posture
- More severe cases require surgery, specifically selective denervation surgery which cuts the nerves away from the affected muscles
- Another type of surgery that’s been proven to help is deep brain stimulation surgery which uses electrical pulses to correct damaged nerves
- Ayurvedic treatments
Cervical Dystonia: Conclusion
While cervical dystonia is an often painful and debilitating disorder, there are many ways to treat it so that patients can continue living happily and pain-free.
The best way to tackle this disorder is to notice it from the early stages and get the support and expertise required for proper diagnosis and treatment.