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Cervical Dystonia: Symptoms and Causes

Sandeep Dhanyamraju MD
Medically reviewed by Sandeep Dhanyamraju
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Sandeep Dhanyamraju MD
Medically reviewed by Sandeep Dhanyamraju

If you are like most people, you probably think of the word “dystonia” as a movement disorder. But have you ever heard what cervical dystonia is? Are you familiar with the name spasmodic torticollis? In brief, it is a form of dystonia that affects the neck. 

Cervical dystonia can cause neck stiffness and pain. And then it often leads to abnormal head positions and movements of the head. 

In this article, we will tell you what neck dystonia is and its symptoms and causes. This information will help you better understand this condition. Stay tuned for future posts in which we will discuss treatment options. Thanks for reading!

What is Cervical Dystonia (Spasmodic Torticollis)?

Cervical dystonia is also called spasmodic torticollis. It is a condition in which the muscles in the neck involuntarily contract, causing the head to turn to one side. The condition can also cause the head to tilt forward or backward. But with either outcome, muscle spasms in the neck bring pain and discomfort to daily life. 

Tightening in the neck can occur at any age, but it most commonly affects adults between the ages of 40 and 60. Doctors identify this problem in women more often than in men. It is also important to note that cervical dystonia can affect both sides of the neck.

If you have cervical spasmodic torticollis, you need to seek medical attention. If you don’t see a doctor in time, there is a risk that the spasms may worsen and cause even more pain and discomfort. Also, not going to the doctor in time at the early signs of cervical dystonia can lead to the operating table.

Early Signs and Symptoms of Cervical Dystonia

The first symptoms of cervical dystonia are usually an uncomfortable tension or spasm of the neck muscles. They last only a few seconds. Symptoms may also include pain and stiffness in the neck and shoulders. You may also feel difficulty turning your head from side to side. In more advanced cases, you may feel cramping. 

symptoms of cervical dystonia

Other common early signs of cervical dystonia include:

  • Neck stiffness.
  • Limited range of motion in the neck.
  • Varying shoulder level.
  • Abnormal head position (tilting or turning permanently).
  • Painful spasms in the head, shoulder, or jaw area.
  • Visible bulges on one side of the neck.

If you experience any of these first signs or symptoms of neck dystonia, it is best to see a doctor. It is best to do this as soon as possible. Your doctor can diagnose spastic torticollis. To do this, they will do a physical exam and more tests, such as X-rays or MRIs.

Causes of Cervical Dystonia

The exact cause of cervical dystonia is unknown. Presumably, it is triggered by an impairment in the brain’s ability to control the muscles. Possible causes include:

Trauma or injury Physical trauma, such as whiplash, can cause spastic torticollis in some cases.
Infection Infections, such as an ear infection or meningitis, can cause spastic torticollis in some people. 
Genetics You can get spastic torticollis hereditarily. So there may be genetic factors you can find here as well.
Neurologic diseases Some neurologic disorders may increase the risk of developing spastic torticollis. It can be Parkinson’s disease. 
Medications Some medications are rarely associated with spastic torticollis. 

You should talk to your doctor about possible causes or risk factors. Especially if you think you may be suffering from spasmodic torticollis. Your doctor can help determine the best course of treatment for this condition.

Cervical Dystonia Risk Factors 

pain neck

Tightening in the neck can affect anyone. But certain factors can increase the risk of developing this condition. Such risk factors include:

  • Age: spastic torticollis is most common in adults between 40 and 60. 
  • Gender: women are more likely than men to develop spastic torticollis. 
  • Family history: Is there someone in your family with this condition? Having someone in your family with spastic torticollis increases risks. 
  • Occupation: People who work in certain occupations may be at increased risk. Examples of such occupations are hairdressers or conveyor belt workers. It is in these professions that people have repetitive neck movements.

If you think you may be at risk for developing neck tightening, talk to your doctor about ways to reduce your risk.

Read also helpful exercises for cervical dystonia in our other article.

Cervical Dystonia Complications

If you don’t treat muscle spasms in your neck, you will feel complications. Examples of complications are, at least, pain and stiffness in the neck and shoulders. The spasms may sometimes be severe enough to cause difficulty speaking or swallowing. If left untreated, spastic torticollis can also lead to problems. You don’t want to experience chronic headaches, fatigue, and depression. And then to surgery.

You need to seek medical help if you think you may have spastic torticollis. There are different treatment options available. They can help relieve symptoms and reduce the risk of complications.

Have you been diagnosed with spastic torticollis? Then follow your doctor’s recommendations for treatment and care. With proper care, you can often treat spastic torticollis effectively.

Bottom Line

The information we have given is intended to:

  • Provide general information about cervical dystonia.
  • Related cervical dystonia risk factors, symptoms and complications.

Do you think you may have cervical spastic torticollis? Or do you have questions about it? Talk to your doctor for further advice and guidance.

Your doctor can help you determine the best treatment. And they management for spastic torticollis. With proper medical care, you can often treat spastic torticollis effectively.

If you still need to find the perfect doctor, welcome to Lone Star Neurology! Our experienced and compassionate neurologists are here to help you manage spastic torticollis, so contact us today. We look forward to helping you on your journey of wellness!​


  • How do I know if I have cervical dystonia?

The most common symptom of spastic torticollis is an abnormal head position and neck spasms. If you experience these symptoms, you must see your doctor for an evaluation. Your doctor can do a physical exam and ask questions about your medical history to make a diagnosis. 

  • How long can you live with cervical dystonia?

The severity and progression of spastic torticollis vary from person to person. With proper treatment and management, many people have been able to manage spasmodic torticollis for years, even decades, successfully. 

  • Is cervical dystonia a neurological disorder?

Yes, spastic torticollis is a neurological disorder. It is caused by abnormal functioning in the brain and nerves that control muscle movement in the neck. Your doctor can help determine the best course of treatment and management of this condition. 

  • Who is most affected by dystonia?

Spastic torticollis is most common in adults between 40 and 60. Women are more likely than men to develop spastic torticollis, and people with a family history of spasmodic torticollis have an increased risk of developing the condition.

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Just such an amazing staff that makes you feel like part of their family. I’ve been going there for over 5 years now... and each visit I get the very best care and treatments that I have ever received in the 20+ years that I’ve been dealing with severe debilitating migraines. Since i started seeing them the number of my migraines has dropped from 15-20 a month to 2-3 every 3 month. I highly recommend them …they will change your life!read more
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Dr. Askari was very kind and explained everything so I could understand. The other staff were nice as well. I would... have gave 5 stars but I was a little taken aback when I checked in and had to pay 600.00 upfront. I think that should have been discussed in a appointment confirmation call or email just so I could have been more
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I was obviously stressed, needing to see a neurologist. The staff was so patient and Dr. Ansari was so kind. At one... point he told me to relax, we have time, when I was relaying my history of my condition. That helped ease my stress. I have seen 3 other neurologists and he was the only one who performed any assessment tests on my cognitive and physical skills. At one point I couldn't complete two assessments and got upset and cried. I was told, it's OK. That's why you're here. I was truly impressed, and super pleased with the whole experience!read more
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I've been coming here for about 5 years. The staff are ALWAYS friendly and knowledgeable. The Doctors are the absolute... best!! Jodie Moore is always in such a great mood which is a plus when you are already stressed. Highly recommendedread more
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Since my first post my thoughts have changed here. It's unfortunate. My doctor and PA were great, but the office staff... is horrible. They never call you back when they say they will, they misinform you, they cause you too much stress wondering what's going on, they don't keep you posted. They never answer the phone. At this point I've left four messages in the last week, and I have sent three messages. Twice from their portal and one direct email. No response. My appointment is on Monday morning at 8:30am, no confirmation on my insurance and what's going on. What the heck is going on, this is ridiculous!I've given up... the stress her office staff has put me through is just not worth it. You can do so much better, please clean house, either change out your office staff, or find a way for them to be more efficient please. You have to do something. This is not how you want to run your practice. It leaves a very bad impression on your more
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I was actually pleasantly surprised with this visit! It took me a long time to get the appointment scheduled because no... one answers your phones EVER! After a month, I finally got in, and your staff was warm, friendly, and I was totally impressed! I feel like you will take care of my needs!read more
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I love going to this office. The staff is friendly and helpful. The doctor is great. I am getting the best... neurological tests and treatment I have ever had. The only reason I did not give them a 5 star rating is because it is impossible to reach a live person at the office to reschedule appointments. Every time I have tried to get through to the office it says all people are busy and I am sent to a voicemail. If they could get their phone answering fixed, I would give them a strong 5 more
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Dr. Harney is an excellent Dr. I found him friendly , personable and thorough. I evidently am an unusual case. ... Therefore he spent a Hugh amount of time educating me. He even gave me literature to further explain my condition and how to follow up. This is something you rarely get from your doctors. So I am more than please with my doctor and his more
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Always courteous, professional. The staff is very friendly and always work with you to find the best appointment time.... The care team has been great. Always taking the time to listen to your concerns and to find the best more
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I have been a patient at Lone Star Neurology for several years. Now both my adult daughters also are patients there. I... love Jodie. She is always so prompt whether it is a teleamed call are a visit in the office. She takes the time to explain everything to me and answers all my questions. I am so blessed to have Jodie as my more
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03:01 13 Jan 21
My husband had an accident 5 years ago and Lone Star Neurology has been such a blessing to us with my husbands care.... Jodie Moore is his provider and she is amazing! Jodie is very knowledgeable, caring, and thorough. She takes her time with you, making sure your needs are met and she is happy to answer any questions you may have. Lone Star Neurology’s patients are very lucky to have Jodie providing their care. Thank you Lone Star Neurology and especially Jodie for everything you have done for us. Jodie, you are the best!read more
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Jodie is wonderful. She is very caring and knowledgeable. I have been to over a dozen neurologists, and none were able... to help me as much as they have here. Thanks!read more
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15:41 07 Jan 21
I have had the best experience at this neurologist's office! For over a year I have been receiving iv treatments here... each month and my nurse, Bobbie is beyond wonderful!! She's so attentive, knowledgeable, caring, and detail oriented. She makes an otherwise uncomfortable experience much more pleasant and definitely puts me at ease! She also helps me with my insurance,ordering this specialty medication and dealing with the ordering process which is no easy feat.Needless to say, she goes above a beyond in every way and I'm so grateful to this office and to Bobbie for all they do for me!read more
Matt Morris
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15:39 07 Jan 21
Let me start by saying that I have been coming here for years. Due to my autoimmune disease, I am in this office... once every three weeks for multiple hours at a time. The office is very clean and the staff very friendly. My only complaint would be there communication via phone. They aren't the best at responding if you leave a voicemail and expect a call back. I understand that this is prob just due to the sheer number of alls they receive daily. What I can say I like the best about the office are the people. Bobby who handles my infusions is great. I never have any issues with her setting up my infusions. She is very quick to reply to messages sent via text and if she were to leave then my whole opinion of the office may change. I also enjoy people like Matt, Lauren, and Jodi. I appreciate all that they do for me and without this team I'm not sure I would be as happy as I am to visit the office as frequently as I have to. Please ensure that these folks are recognized as they are what makes my visit to this office so tolerable :).read more
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  1. 12/03/2024

    My twin sister Dianne has cervical Dystonia and has considerable pain in her neck she has Botox injection every 3 months (but sometimes she has to wait longer )and in that time is in agony with her neck I’m just asking if there are any other treatments available to her and would neck exercises help her thankyou she is 66 years old and started with this in her 40s

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