Cervical dystonia is a medical condition causing involuntary contractions of the neck muscles, which results in noticeable involuntary cranial movements, as well as loss of motor control in the neck and head. Due to the muscular contractions, the patient suffering from cervical dystonia will exhibit involuntary twisting or turning of the head to the side, as well as unwanted tilting of the head forwards or backwards. Cervical dystonia, also known in medical parlance as spasmodic torticollis, causes significant pain to the patient and interrupts their normal functioning. As such, treatment of the condition requires medical intervention.
Symptoms of Cervical Dystonia
The most common symptoms of cervical dystonia include contractions resulting in unwanted and involuntary movement of the head and neck in patients. Contractions that pull the chin towards the shoulder are the most common. However, other commonly presenting symptoms of cervical dystonia include:
- Neck pain that radiates to the shoulder
- Headaches stemming from the involuntary movement of the head
- Exhaustion and occupational impairment due to the undesirable contraction of neck muscles are also common complications
Causes of Cervical Dystonia
While a relatively rare condition, any individual can develop cervical dystonia at any age. However, the condition most commonly presents itself in middle-aged women. While the cause of this disorder is not fully known by the medical community, informed medical opinions hold that the causes of many cervical dystonia appear to be the manifestation of post-traumatic responses to prior trauma to the neck or shoulder of the patient. Likewise, certain medications, including commonly prescribed antipsychotics, appear to play a role in the emergence of cervical dystonia in patients. Symptoms of cervical dystonia typically appear gradually over time, and if left entirely untreated, will worsen in most cases. However, in a process that confounds medical professionals, cases originally diagnosed as cervical dystonia appear to resolve themselves over time, with prolonged periods of auto-remission being possible.
Treatments for Cervical Dystonia
While no definitive cure exists for patients suffering from cervical dystonia, treatment options that alleviate or minimize the impact of the condition in the lives of patients do exist.
In some limited cases, treatment is not recommended, but continued medical observation by a doctor or neurologist is advisable. However, a recurring problem with cervical dystonia patients is the strong likelihood that muscle contractions and symptoms appearing to alleviate naturally will return after a period of remission. Thus, finding a plan that can help eradicate pain long-term is ideal for most patients.
The following include known and effective methods for coping with cervical dystonia, including:
- An injection of botulinum toxin, commonly known under its trade name of Botox, is commonly used to calm otherwise overactive muscle twitching in the necks of patients. Injecting the medication into the neck has been shown to work in most users. However, the process must be repeated every few months.
- Other medications are often used in conjunction with botulinum toxin injections on a patient-specific basis, including muscle relaxers, pain relievers of varying intensity, and medications frequently used to treat similar muscular twitching found in Parkinson’s patients.
- Non-pharmacological measures frequently employed by cervical dystonia patients per the recommendations of their physicians include the use of neck strengthening exercises, the wearing of neck braces, and other non-physical stress-reduction techniques.
- Surgical intervention, which is generally reserved for those cases presenting an extreme and grossly impairing degree of the condition
Surgical Treatment Options for Cervical Dystonia Patients
Surgical options occasionally used to treat cervical dystonia in patients entails cutting through the muscles and nerves in combination with deep brain stimulation (DBS). Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) in cervical dystonia patients refers to a procedure in which a thin wire is inserted into patient’s skull and placed in the portion of the brain that controls movement. Then, electrical pulses are sent through the wire in order to interfere with the neurological signals forcing the neck muscles to contract. It should be noted, however, that DBS treatment is only used in extreme cases.