Back to the Dystonia Coalition Home Page
Information for Patients and Families

Learn More

Cervical Dystonia

What is cervical dystonia?

Cervical dystonia is characterized by excessive pulling of the muscles of the neck and shoulder. The excessive pulling causes the head to turn or tilt involuntarily. Most commonly, the head turns to one side or the other. Tilting sideways, or to the back or front may also occur. Often, the turning and tilting movements are accompanied by jerky or wobbly movements known as tremor. Also common is soreness of the muscles of the neck and shoulders.

Who gets cervical dystonia?

People of all ages and all races all over the world get cervical dystonia. It most commonly begins in middle age, between 30-60 years old. Less commonly, it may begin in children or older adults. People of both sexes get cervical dystonia, but it is more common in women.

What causes cervical dystonia?

In most cases, the cause of cervical dystonia is unknown.

How is cervical dystonia diagnosed?

The diagnosis of cervical dystonia depends on recognition of its characteristic features by an expert, such as a neurologist. There are no medical tests for proving the diagnosis, but several tests may be conducted to rule out other possible problems. These tests may include blood tests or scans of the head or neck.

Are there treatments for cervical dystonia?

The most useful treatments for cervical dystonia involve quieting the overactive muscles by injecting them with a muscle relaxer. The most commonly used medications are the botulinum toxins. Some patients take pills, and others go for surgery.

Frequently Asked Questions about Cervical Dystonia

Why did I get cervical dystonia?

The reasons why some people get cervical dystonia are unknown. In some cases, it may be inherited through a change in the genes. In others, it may be caused by something that happened to the brain, like exposure to some infection, chemical, or injury. Experts believe that most cases come from a combination of inheritance and some exposure. 

Will my cervical dystonia get worse?

Cervical dystonia usually reaches its worst level of severity over a period of weeks or months, sometimes a year. Then the condition becomes stable. In a minority of cases, it may worsen over several years or spread to another region of the body.

Will my cervical dystonia ever go away?

In a few fortunate people, cervical dystonia may go away. When it does go away, there always is the risk that it may come back.

Was my cervical dystonia caused by an injury to my head or neck?

Most people with injuries to the head or neck do not develop cervical dystonia. People with cervical dystonia are no more likely to have such injuries than those without cervical dystonia. Though cervical dystonia may develop after some trauma, it is not possible to know for sure if the trauma caused the problem.