Focus on Cervical Dystonia

Cervical dystonia is a focal dystonia that affects the head and neck. Cervical dystonia produces excessive muscle contractions in the neck. These muscle contractions cause involuntary, repetitive movements and awkward positions of the head, neck, and sometimes shoulders.

Cervical dystonia is sometimes referred to as spasmodic torticollis.

Cervical dystonia may cause:

  • Neck to twist or tilt to the side
  • Head to tip forward or back
  • Shoulder to elevate toward the ear
  • Neck to shift away from the midline of the body
  • Tremor-like movements of the head
  • Spasmodic jerking of the head

Additional features of cervical dystonia may include a hand tremor, depression, and anxiety.

Cervical dystonia is among the most common forms of dystonia seen in movement disorder clinics.

Cervical dystonia may occur sporadically or be caused by physical trauma, brain injury, certain medications, and additional secondary factors.

Movement symptoms are often partially relieved by a sensory trick such as gently touching the chin, face, or back of the head.

Up to 20% of individuals with cervical dystonia may experience a temporary remission, lasting from days to years. In fewer than 6% of cases, the dystonia spreads to other body areas.

Up to 25% of people with cervical dystonia have a family member with dystonia or tremor.

Treatment may include oral medications, botulinum neurotoxin injections, peripheral denervation surgery, deep brain stimulation, and physical therapy. Complementary therapies, for example occupational therapy and stress reduction practices, may be helpful for overall wellness.

Three brands of botulinum neurotoxin are approved for use in cervical dystonia: Botox®, Dysport®, Xeomin®.  Research is exploring numerous novel therapeutic targets for cervical dystonia.

A presentation about cervical dystonia by movement disorder specialist Cynthia Comella, MD of Rush University Medical Center is available for viewing via DMRF’s YouTube channel at

Coping Tips

Members of the DMRF’s Cervical Dystonia Support Forum on Facebook were asked to name their top coping tips. Below is a sampling of the responses. Join the group at

Connect with others who have cervical dystonia


Physical therapy

Positive attitude

Reduce stress

Heat packs

Warm baths


Educate yourself and stay informed

Caring doctor

Botulinum neurotoxin injections

Oral medications


Learn your triggers and avoid them

Republished with permission from DMRF Dystonia Dialogue, Summer 2016 Vol 41, No 1.

Last update: Oct 2022