Cervical dystonia, also called spasmodic torticollis, is a painful condition in which your neck muscles contract involuntarily, causing your head to twist or turn to one side. Cervical dystonia can also cause your head to uncontrollably tilt forward or backward.
A rare disorder that can occur at any age, cervical dystonia most often occurs in middle-aged people, women more than men. Symptoms generally begin gradually and then reach a point where they don’t get substantially worse.
There is no cure for cervical dystonia. The disorder sometimes resolves without treatment, but sustained remissions are uncommon. Injecting botulinum toxin into the affected muscles often reduces the signs and symptoms of cervical dystonia. Surgery may be appropriate in a few cases.
The muscle contractions involved in cervical dystonia can cause your head to twist in a variety of directions, including:
- Chin toward shoulder
- Ear toward shoulder
- Chin straight up
- Chin straight down
The most common type of twisting associated with cervical dystonia is when your chin is pulled toward your shoulder. Some people experience a combination of abnormal head postures. A jerking motion of the head also may occur.
Many people who have cervical dystonia also experience neck pain that can radiate into the shoulders. The disorder also can cause headaches. In some people, the pain from cervical dystonia can be exhausting and disabling.
In most cases of cervical dystonia, the cause is unknown. Some people who have cervical dystonia have a family history of the disorder, so a genetic component may be a factor. Cervical dystonia is sometimes linked to head, neck or shoulder injuries.
Risk factors for cervical dystonia include:
- Age. While the disorder can occur in people of any age, it most commonly begins after age 30.
- Your sex. Women are more likely to develop cervical dystonia than are men.
- Family history. If a close family member has cervical dystonia or some other type of dystonia, you are at higher risk of developing the disorder.
In some cases, the involuntary muscle contractions associated with cervical dystonia can spread to nearby areas of your body. The most common locations include the face, jaw, arms and trunk.
People who have cervical dystonia also may develop bone spurs that may reduce the amount of space in the spinal canal. This can cause tingling, numbness and weakness in your arms, hands, legs or feet.