While a physical examination alone can often confirm a diagnosis of cervical dystonia, your doctor might suggest blood tests or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to rule out any underlying conditions causing your signs and symptoms.
There is no cure for cervical dystonia. In some people, signs and symptoms may disappear without treatment, but recurrence is common. Treatment focuses on relieving the signs and symptoms.
Botulinum toxin, a paralyzing agent often used to smooth facial wrinkles, can be injected directly into the neck muscles affected by cervical dystonia. Examples of botulinum toxin drugs include Botox, Dysport, Xeomin and Myobloc.
Most people with cervical dystonia see an improvement with these injections, which usually must be repeated every three to four months.
To improve results or to help reduce the dosage and frequency of botulinum toxin injections, your doctor might also suggest oral medications that have a muscle-relaxing effect.
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, but they often lose effectiveness as the disease progresses.
Heat packs and massage can help relax your neck and shoulder muscles. Exercises that improve neck strength and flexibility also may be helpful.
The signs and symptoms of cervical dystonia tend to worsen when you're stressed, so learning stress management techniques also is important.
Surgery and other procedures
If less invasive treatments don't help, your doctor might suggest surgery. Procedures may include:
- Deep brain stimulation. In this procedure, a thin wire is guided into the brain through a small hole cut into the skull. The tip of the wire is placed in the portion of the brain that controls movement. Electrical pulses are sent through the wire to interrupt the nerve signals making your head twist.
- Cutting the nerves. Another option is to surgically sever the nerves carrying the contraction signals to the affected muscles.
Coping and support
Severe cases of cervical dystonia may make you feel uncomfortable in social situations or even limit your abilities to accomplish everyday tasks such as driving. Many people with cervical dystonia feel isolated and depressed.
Remember that you're not alone. A number of organizations and support groups are dedicated to providing information and support for you and your family — whether you have the disorder or you have a friend or family member who does.
Your doctor may be able to suggest support groups available in your area, or there are a number of good sites on the internet with information about local support groups.
Preparing for your appointment
While you might first discuss your symptoms with your family doctor, he or she may refer you to a neurologist — a doctor who specializes in disorders of the brain and nervous system — for further evaluation.
What you can do
Because appointments can be brief, plan ahead and write a list that includes:
- Information about the medical problems of your parents or siblings
- All the medications and dietary supplements you take
- Questions you want to ask the doctor
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor may ask some of the following questions:
- When did your symptoms start?
- Have your symptoms worsened over time?
- Does anything seem to help relieve your symptoms?
- What medications do you take?