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What Is Cervical Dystonia?

Cervical dystonia is a rare disease affecting about 60,000 people in the US. There is no known cure for this disorder. While some cases are manageable, other people with this disorder have to endure extreme pain.

Cervical dystonia results in uncontrollable muscle movements and secondary problems such as compression of nerve roots. The nerve compression causes symptoms such as pain and muscle weakness. In addition, a patient may suffer from other symptoms that affect their mental health and quality of life.


Are you suffering from cervical dystonia due to physical trauma in a car accident or slip and fall at work? You may be entitled to legal compensation. Call the personal injury attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC.

Get a free no-obligation consultation through our contact form or call us at (888) 424-5757 (toll-free phone call). All confidential or sensitive information you share with our legal team remains private through an attorney-client relationship.

What Is Cervical Dystonia?

Cervical Dystonia (CD) refers to a neurological disorder that manifests itself as involuntary contractions of neck muscles. These involuntary muscle contractions cause the head to lean or twist involuntarily. The twisting may include the chin pulling up, down, forward and backward.

Other involuntary movements include the shoulder contorting up and the body manifesting abnormal postures. The sudden movements are painful, with the patient usually feeling the pain on the affected side.

What Are the Symptoms of Cervical Dystonia?

Symptoms generally begin gradually, making people neglect the minor manifestations of symptoms. The symptoms often start as slight head tremor that causes sudden and involuntary neck muscle contractions.

People with Cervical Dystonia may experience symptoms ranging from mild to severe. These symptoms may include:

  • Neck pain that extends to the shoulders
  • Elevated shoulder
  • Hand tremors
  • Headache
  • Enlarge neck muscle,which can be seen in 75% of cases

The muscle contractions can last up to 5 years and eventually disappear without intervention in a few cases. However, spasms may persist, affecting the patient’s quality of life. While the symptoms are not fatal, they can restrict movements and may affect the ability of the affected individual to communicate.

Cervical Dystonia strikes at any age, although most people with this condition may start to notice signs and symptoms during middle age.

Different Forms of Cervical Dystonia

Cervical Dystonia, otherwise called spasmodic torticollis, may manifest in different forms. Below are the four forms of cervical dystonia:

Torticollis. Torticollis is the type of focal dystonia affecting the neck muscles. It is characterized by the uncontrollable movement of the head and neck. The condition causes an abnormal slope or rotation of the head.

Researchers estimate that about 90% of people will experience at least one episode of torticollis.

The other manifestations of torticollis include tremors of the head. The movement typically consists of the following neck muscles:

  • Splenius capitis is a muscle at the posterior part of the neck. This muscle is responsible for head and neck movements.
  • The trapezius is found at the base of the neck and extends to the shoulders and the middle of the back. This muscle is responsible for pulling the shoulders up and supports the movement of the head, neck, arms, shoulders, and torso.
  • Levator scapulae refer to the skeletal muscle found at the back and side of the neck. One of its primary functions is to elevate or lift the scapula.
  • The sternocleidomastoid is a large and superficial cervical muscle. This muscle functions primarily support the rotation of the head and flexion of the neck.

Laterocollis. Laterocollis refers to a sideward head tilt with the head dragged down to the shoulder. In some instances, one shoulder may rise. The neck muscles involved in the movement include splenius capitis, scalene, trapezius, and levator scapulae.

The person has difficulty keeping an upright head position and even more trouble moving the head to the side.

Anterocollis. Anterocollis is another form of cervical dystonia where repetitive muscle movement and contractions cause the involuntary lowering of the chin to the chest.

The affected muscles in this form of dystonia include the sternocleidomastoid and scalene muscles. People with anterocollis may experience difficulty in swallowing and speaking.

Retrocollis. In this form of dystonia, the repetitive neck contractions are seen as the head being pushed back against the spine. People with retrocollis dystonia may have difficulty swallowing and communicating.

Causes of Cervical Dystonia

Researchers associate primary dystonia with genetic factors. Secondary cervical dystonia can be linked to outside factors such as injuries and exposure to medications. A person may develop secondary dystonia due to a basal ganglia problem affecting muscle movements:

Below are some of the possible causes of cervical dystonia:

Neurological Disorders

Neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease may trigger the development of cervical dystonia. For example, studies show that more than 30 percent of people with Parkinson's disease may also manifest symptoms of dystonia.

Other researchers believed that symptoms of dystonia in people with Parkinson’s disease occur as a complication arising from the treatment.

Medications That Block Dopamine

Some medications may trigger unusually repetitive muscle movements due to their ability to alter brain chemistry. Dopamine blocking drugs are the most common medications associated with sudden muscle movements.

The dopamine blocking drugs may trigger sudden involuntary movements, such as parkinsonism and spasmodic torticollis.

Heredity and Genetic Susceptibility

Some cases of cervical dystonia include people who have a family history of the condition. Moreover, clinical studies reveal a positive correlation between heredity in the incidence of cervical dystonia in 10 to 25% of cases.

Researchers also found cervical dystonia linked with a genetic mutation, including GNAL, THAP1, CIZ1, ANO3 genes, and other environmental factors. For instance, in a recent clinical study, THAP1 mutation was identified as an underlying cause in the formation of dystonia in an adolescent.

Injury to the Head, Neck, or Shoulders

About 5 to 21% of people with cervical dystonia may have experienced an injury to the head or neck before they experienced symptoms of dystonia.

Another’s Negligence Led to Severe Trauma and Injury

Some cases of cervical dystonia are caused by another’s negligence, like:

  • Pharmaceutical companies that sell defective drugs,
  • Doctors who prescribe those medications
  • Motorists who cause accidents leading to physical injury
  • Employers who fail to provide a safe working environment free of on-the-job injuries
  • OB/GYNs whose negligence leads to neurological disorder birth injuries

How Do Doctors Diagnose Cervical Dystonia?

Generally, doctors can confirm a diagnosis of dystonia through physical examination alone. However, they may suggest getting electromyography, MRI, and other diagnostic procedures to rule out underlying conditions.

  • Electromyography is a diagnostic test designed to examine muscle and nerve cell conditions. This procedure aims to determine the possible existence of nerve and muscle dysfunction, including potential issues with nerve-to-muscle signal transmission.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Doctors order an MRI to rule out other disorders. This procedure helps doctors ensure that other health issues are not causing the symptoms.
  • Blood or Urine Test. Medical practitioners may also request blood and urine tests to rule out other underlying conditions causing the symptoms.
  • Genetic Testing. Patients are better positioned to decide for themselves when presented with treatment options. Genetic testing can help medical practitioners determine treatment options for a specific case. For example, a patient who is found positive for certain dystonia genes may choose deep brain stimulation surgery.

Common Cervical Dystonia Treatment

There is no known treatment for cervical dystonia. However, there are medical treatments that can reduce its symptoms and improve the quality of life of a person with this condition—the treatments presented below focus on providing relief from the signs and symptoms of cervical dystonia.

Medications for Cervical Dystonia

Clinical findings presented by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) confirm the efficacy of botulinum toxin treatment for pain relief and the management of dystonic movements.

Specifically, the procedure includes injecting botulinum toxin type B in the affected area to reduce pain and manage movement disorders. Recent findings reveal that more than 90% of patients treated with botulinum toxin injections reported a significant reduction in their symptoms.

However, it is essential to note that the effect of the botulinum toxin wears off over time. To maximize the impact of the medical treatment, doctors recommend giving botulinum injections to people with cervical dystonia once every three months.

Moreover, medical practitioners may recommend certain drugs with muscle-relaxing effects to reduce the frequency of botulinum toxin injections.

Some of the oral medications include:

  • Anticholinergic agents which help to minimize tremors
  • GABAergic agents regulate the neurotransmitter GABA blocking impulses between the brain nerve’s cells.

Physical Therapy and Other Sensory Tricks

Working with a therapist to improve muscle movement and posture helps manage segmented and generalized dystonia. People who suffer from abnormal movements benefit from physical therapist treatment's core objectives focus on body posture awareness and control.

Changes with physical therapy may take some time. People looking to treat cervical dystonia for a long-term positive outcome have to approach the treatment with patience.

Studies also show that a few people experience spontaneous remission. While the effect is temporary, it provides relief from uncontrollable muscle activity.

Surgery and Other Procedures

In most cases, the application of non-invasive treatment for cervical dystonia, such as botulinum toxin, and physical therapy is effective.

However, the medical practitioner might suggest surgery if less-invasive treatment is not effective in reducing pain and other symptoms. The procedures for surgery may include:

  • Deep brain stimulation. This procedure places electrical leads in specific target areas, particularly in the basal ganglia, responsible for controlling movement. The goal is to control brain signals that trigger muscle movements and contractions.
  • Selective peripheral denervation.Another option is to surgically sever the nerves carrying the contraction signals to the affected muscles.

Cervical Dystonia FAQs

Our personal injury attorney answered some of the most commonly asked questions on cervical dystonia. Call us for additional information at (888) 4247-5757 or use the contact form.

How Do You Know If You Have Cervical Dystonia?

Experiencing involuntary muscle contractions is one way to tell that a person has cervical dystonia. In some instances, muscle contractions can spread throughout the body.

Still, the best way to know whether a person has cervical dystonia is to consult a medical practitioner familiar with the disorder's clinical features. The doctor may order clinical tests to determine whether the symptoms are associated with cervical dystonia.

Is Cervical Dystonia Serious?

Some people consider cervical dystonia a less severe disorder, especially when the disorder begins slowly and manifests only a few symptoms with minor pain.

However, cervical dystonia is a serious disorder, and people with this condition may experience burning pain and continuing spasms. In addition, this disorder may also hurt the mental and psychological health of the patient.

A person with cervical dystonia has to seek professional medical help to address the physical pain and discomfort caused by the disorder.

Is Cervical Dystonia the Same as Spasmodic Torticollis?

Spasmodic torticollis is a term that is often used in place of cervical dystonia. The disorder manifests itself as something that triggers the neck to rotate. In Latin, “torti” means twisted, and “collis” means neck, hence the word “torticollis.”

What Does Cervical Dystonia Feel Like?

Cervical dystonia can be painful in some cases. In addition to pain, people with this disorder may endure involuntary muscle contractions and uncontrollable neck twisting.

Can Trauma Cause Cervical Dystonia?

Cervical dystonia caused by trauma is classified as acquired dystonia. The most common cause of acquired cervical dystonia is a traumatic injury to the brain.

In medical literature, some cases of cervical dystonia are presented as a neurological disorder resulting from sudden physical trauma.

Hire Skilled Injury Attorneys to Resolve a Medical Malpractice Claim

Cervical dystonia may interfere with the patient’s day-to-day activities. The condition can even lead to a significant disability if left untreated. Unfortunately, some people suffer from the complications of cervical dystonia due to misdiagnosis and medical negligence.

The personal injury attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC represent people suffering from negligence and misdiagnosis. Complete the contact form or call us at (888) 424-5757 for a free consultation with a personal injury attorney.

There is never a fee charged unless there is a recovery for you. Our law firm provides advice on the best legal action that fits a client’s specific situation.


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