By DR. GARY S. SY
MANILA, Philippines — Cervical dystonia, also called spasmodic torticollis, is a painful condition in which your neck muscles contract involuntarily, causing your head to twist to one side. Cervical dystonia can also cause your head to uncontrollably tilt forward or back.
A rare disorder that can occur at any age, even infancy, cervical dystonia most often occurs in middle-aged women. Symptoms generally begin gradually and then reach a point where they don't get any worse.
There is no cure for cervical dystonia, but the disorder sometimes resolves on its own.
Twisted neck — 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.
Pain — At least two-thirds of the people who have cervical dystonia also experience neck pain that can radiate into the shoulders. The disorder also can cause severe headaches. In some people, the pain from cervical dystonia can be exhausting and disabling.
Others — Tremor. Cervical dystonia may also cause tremors in your arm or hand.
Shoulder elevation. The disorder may also cause the shoulder on your affected side to pull up toward your ear.
Researchers believe that the signs and symptoms of cervical dystonia result from a defect in the brain's ability to process chemical messages that allow brain cells to communicate with each other.
In most cases of cervical dystonia, doctors don't know why some people develop the disorder and others don't. Some cases, however, appear to be linked to:
Head, neck or shoulder injuries.
Tumors in the brain or spinal cord.
Drugs, including some antipsychotic, anti-nausea, and antidepressant agents.
Toxins, such as heavy metals and carbon monoxide.
Risk factors for cervical dystonia include:
Age. While the disorder can occur in people of any age, even infants, it most commonly begins between the ages of 40 and 60.
Sex. Compared with men, women are nearly twice as likely to develop cervical dystonia.
Family history. If a close family member has cervical dystonia or another movement disorder, you are at higher risk of developing the disorder.
Cervical dystonia can lead to:
Nerve damage. The sustained muscle contractions associated with cervical dystonia can cause permanent damage to compressed nerves. Symptoms include pain, numbness and tingling.
Involvement of other body parts. Some people who start out with cervical dystonia eventually develop similar symptoms in the face, jaw, arm or trunk.
Depression. The disability and pain that can be caused by cervical dystonia may result in depression.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Cervical dystonia has no cure, but you can do a number of things to minimize its effects:
Reduce stress. Avoiding situations that cause stress or anxiety is important because stress tends to make your signs and symptoms worse.
Get your rest. Signs often disappear during sleep, so get plenty of rest. You may find relief by taking short breaks during your day to lie on your back and relax.
Try touching. Sensory tricks, such as touching the opposite side of your face or the back of your head, may cause spasms to stop temporarily. Different sensory tricks work for different people, and if you find one that works, it usually will continue to work for you.
In addition to your regular treatment, techniques such as massage therapy, biofeedback and relaxation techniques may provide additional relief from your symptoms.