Cervical dystonia (spasmodic torticollis) is a condition that causes the muscles in your neck to contract. This causes involuntary movements of your head and neck, like bending and turning. These movements can be painful and may prevent you from participating in the activities you enjoy. Treatment can help manage symptoms.
Cervical dystonia is a neurological condition (affecting your brain and nerves) that causes involuntary muscle contractions in your neck. When your muscles contract, they tighten and can’t relax. This condition affects your posture. Your head and neck may make abnormal movements that look similar to a spasm or jerk. This condition can cause pain and discomfort, which can affect your day-to-day activities.
Cervical dystonia is a type of focal dystonia. This is a group of conditions that cause muscle spasms in one part of your body.
You may hear your healthcare provider refer to cervical dystonia as spasmodic torticollis.
There are two types of cervical dystonia. You can tell them apart by the cause:
Cervical dystonia is the most common form of focal dystonia. It affects an estimated 60,000 people in the United States.
Cervical dystonia causes involuntary movements like:
Involuntary movements can affect your posture. Your posture is the position that you hold your body in when you’re standing or sitting. Posture changes with cervical dystonia may include:
These movements can cause pain (a burning sensation) in your shoulders and neck. You may also experience headaches with cervical dystonia.
Healthcare providers don’t know the exact cause of all cases of cervical dystonia. Research suggests your basal ganglia, or the part of your brain that regulates muscle movements, isn’t working as it should.
Secondary dystonia may be the result of:
You may be more at risk of developing cervical dystonia if you:
While the condition can affect anyone at any age, it’s most common among:
Symptoms of cervical dystonia can affect your daily routine and how well you’re able to perform certain activities. Pain, tremors or spasms can make it difficult to move your neck, jaw, arms and trunk. You may have trouble with speech, swallowing and physical coordination. Severe cases may limit your ability to work or complete tasks that you used to be able to do, like combing your hair or brushing your teeth.
If cervical dystonia is left untreated, you may experience pain and dystonia or muscle spasms in other parts of your body beyond your neck.
A healthcare provider will diagnose cervical dystonia after a physical exam to review your symptoms. They’ll also ask you about your medical history and your family’s medical history to see if you’re aware of the condition in your biological family.
Treatment for cervical dystonia may include:
Some people might notice that their symptoms resolve after touching their chin or wearing a neck brace (cervical collar).
Treatment varies for each person diagnosed with the condition. What works for you might not work for someone else. You may need to try different types of treatment until you find the right one or few that work for you.
Many people know about a common brand of botulinum toxin called Botox®. This is a type of botulinum toxin serotype A that can treat cervical dystonia in addition to botulinum toxin type B. Botulinum toxin works by weakening the dystonic neck muscle, in turn, keeping it from contracting.
Your healthcare provider will inject this medication into the muscles in your neck. You may notice the effects of the medication about a week after the injection. It lasts between two to three months. When the effects wear off, your symptoms will reappear. You’ll need repeat injections to manage your symptoms.
Side effects of botulinum toxin include:
Some of the most common medications to treat cervical dystonia include:
Side effects may include memory problems and fatigue.
There’s no known way to prevent cervical dystonia.
Cervical dystonia is a lifelong condition, but it doesn’t affect your life expectancy. The condition may progressively worsen over time or your symptoms may plateau (reach a point where they don’t change).
With treatment, you and your healthcare provider can manage your symptoms so you can get back to the activities you enjoy without discomfort.
No. There’s no cure for cervical dystonia. Botox, a brand of botulinum toxin, can temporarily treat the symptoms of cervical dystonia, but it isn’t a cure.
Visit a healthcare provider if:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Cervical dystonia is an uncomfortable condition. The muscles in your neck have trouble relaxing, which makes your head move when you don’t want it to. It can prevent you from participating in certain activities you once enjoyed or completing your daily routine. Your healthcare provider can help you find a treatment that works best to address your symptoms so you can feel better.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/31/2023.
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