Cervical Dystonia

Cervical dystonia, also known as spasmodic torticollis, is a rare neurological disorder and is the most common form of focal dystonia. It is characterized by involuntary and often painful muscle contractions in the neck that cause abnormal movements and postures of the neck and head.

Cervical dystonia is classified as a focal dystonia which means it affects only one region of the body. In the majority of cases the dystonia does not spread to other areas. However, in a minority of cases, other regions of the body also become affected and the dystonia is classified as a multifocal or segmental dystonia. Cervical dystonia is usually an idiopathic dystonia. This means that torsion dystonia is the only clinical sign (apart from tremor) and there is no identifiable exogenous cause or other inherited or degenerative disease.

Cervical dystonia causes abnormal muscle contractions in the neck, this can cause the head and neck to:  

  • twisting (Torticollis)

  • being pulled forwards (Antecollis)

  • being pulled backwards (Retrocollis)

  • being pulled sideways (Laterocollis)


Symptoms may vary from mild to severe and the muscular spasms may result in pain and discomfort. Cervical dystonia often worsens during periods of stress or whilst walking and typically improve with rest, sleep or sensory tricks (Geste Antagoniste).

Cervical dystonia is often misdiagnosed by GPs. Conditions that cervical dystonia is commonly mistaken for include neck damage, pulled muscle or muscle strain, slept the wrong way, head trauma and a psychological problem. It is a very under-recognised condition, with patients still reporting that it can take three or four years before a diagnosis is made by referral to a neurologist.


Indicators for a GP that the diagnosis may be cervical dystonia rather one of these other conditions include:

  • Does not respond to physiotherapy or pain killers

  • Does not clear up over time

  • Symptoms sometimes ease with sensory tricks (such as putting a finger on the chin)

  • Movement still present when patient unaware of being observed


Treatment for cervical dystonia usually involves regular injections administered by a neurologist. Some people also find oral medication  helpful. Sensory tricks (e.g. touching a part of the head with a finger) and relaxation techniques may also be helpful as coping strategies.

Unfortunately there is not yet a cure for cervical dystonia. However, in the vast majority of cases, dystonia does not impact intelligence or shorten a person's life span. Most people do manage to develop successful strategies for living with dystonia combining treatment with pain control and sensory tricks to help with social situations.


If you or someone you know suffers or suspects they may have cervical dystonia and are looking for a specialist neurologist, please feel free to contact Synapse Neurology for a consultation on 03) 8582 6945.




*Source: The Dystonia Society