Cervical dystonia is a medical condition that causes involuntary contractions of neck muscles, which lead to abnormal jerky head movements or awkward posture of the head and neck. The movements of the neck can be sustained or jerky, or a combination of both. The condition, which is otherwise known as spasmodic torticollis, torticollis or adult onset focal dystonia; may also cause muscle spasms or pinched nerves, which result in severe pain and discomfort.
If the head movements are more concentrated to the sides, the condition is called laterocollis; and if the head tilts backward towards the spine, it is called retrocollis. Anterocollis is the term used to denote the forward head movements (towards the chest).
Symptoms and Causes
It has been observed that, middle-aged women are more prone to this rare disorder, which can occur at any age, even during infancy. The symptoms develop gradually and reach a stage, where it stabilizes. The most common symptom is the abnormal movements of the head in different directions. The affected people may either have head movements towards a single direction or in different directions. The symptoms also include neck pain that radiates to the shoulders and severe headache. The patient may also experience tremors in the arms and shoulder elevation.
Cervical dystonia can be primary or secondary. Primary type is caused by any neurological disorder or due to hereditary factors. Secondary cervical dystonia may develop due to physical trauma. Studies show that, this disorder happens to those people, whose brain cannot process chemical messages that facilitate communication of brain cells with one another. It can be due to neck injuries, head or shoulder injuries, stroke, tumor of the spinal cord, brain tumor, carbon monoxide poisoning; and side effects of medication like antidepressants, antipsychotics and anti-nausea drugs.
As there is no cure for this condition, most of the cervical dystonia treatment methods aim at relieving the disabling and debilitating symptoms. A combination of these treatment methods may help the patient in combating this disorder.
Botulinum Toxin Injections
There are two types of botulinum injections - Botox (type A) and myobloc (type B). Botulin toxin is a paralyzing agent, which is directly injected into the affected neck muscles. Botulin toxin injections provide relief by stopping the neck muscle contractions. This treatment has to be repeated every three to four months.
Sometimes, drugs that are used for treating Parkinson's disease, are found to be effective for those with cervical dystonia. Usually, such drugs are used in combination with Botox injections. Other medication include muscle relaxants, which are also useful for reducing stress. Such medicines can also prevent worsening of the symptoms due to stress.
Exercises and Other Therapies
Some stretching and strengthening exercises are effective for improving posture and for alleviating the symptoms, especially pain. Stress reducing techniques like yoga, meditation and massage, may prove beneficial for people affected with this condition. Adequate rest, sleep and relaxation are very important for such people. It has also been observed that, some sensory tricks can be used to stop the spasms caused by this disorder. Touching or applying pressure on a specific point on the face or neck can stop the pain and spasms. Find out the sensory trick that works for you.
Surgery is recommended as a cervical dystonia treatment, if all the other non-invasive methods fail to relieve the symptoms. One such surgical treatment is deep brain stimulation, wherein a thin insulated wire (electrode) is inserted into the brain through a minute hole made in the skull. The tip of the electrode is placed on that point of the brain, which controls neck movement.
The tip of the electrode is connected to a small battery, placed in the chest, through a wire that passes beneath the skin. The battery sends electric pulses to the electrode tip, which in turn hinders the nerve signals that cause such abnormal head movements. Another surgical treatment involves cutting of muscles or nerves that cause the abnormal posture. This is done on patients, who do not respond to other treatment options, like Botox injections.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice. Visiting your physician is the safest way to diagnose and treat any health condition.