Dystonia is a group of movement disorders in which a person's muscles in a particular body part contract uncontrollably, resulting in repetitive movements. About one percent of the population is affected, and women are more likely to have it than men.
The most common type of dystonia is cervical dystonia, also known as torticollis. It affects the neck muscles, causing the head to twist back-and-forth to the side or to move forcefully forward and backward. It usually occurs in middle-aged individuals, but it has been reported in people of all ages.
Symptoms start gradually and build to a point where they don't get measurably worse. While it may resolve without treatment, sustained remissions are uncommon, and there is no cure.
At Memphis Neurology, with locations in Germantown, Tennessee, and Southaven, Mississippi, our expert team of neurologists is dedicated to educating patients about their conditions and offers personalized treatment plans that combine holistic and integrative approaches, including for cervical dystonia. They’ve put together this guide so you can be better informed about dystonia, as well as the treatment options available.
Cervical dystonia causes and symptoms
In most cases, cervical dystonia has no specific cause, though it seems to be connected in some way to a problem in the basal ganglia, the brain area responsible for initiating muscle contractions. The problem seems to lie in the way the nerve cells communicate — or fail to communicate properly.
While researchers have found a number of genetic mutations associated with the disorder, it may also be linked to head, neck, or shoulder injuries.
The muscle contractions can force the head to twist in a number of directions, with the most common being when the chin is pulled toward the shoulder.
Many people with cervical dystonia also experience neck pain that may radiate into the shoulders and/or cause headaches, and that pain can be debilitating. Some may also develop bone spurs in the spine, reducing the space in the spinal canal. This results in tingling, numbness, and weakness in the hands, arms, legs, or feet.
Botox (onabotulinumtoxin A) is a neurotoxin that comes from the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. It’s the same neurotoxin that causes botulism (food poisoning).
According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology (AOCD), though, Botox, which uses a very diluted form of the toxin, is safe and has few side effects when administered therapeutically.
Botox temporarily paralyzes muscles, which is why it’s so commonly used in cosmetic settings as a treatment to smooth out facial wrinkles. Medically, though, it benefits a variety of muscle- and nerve-related disorders, including cervical dystonia.
Treating cervical dystonia with Botox
Botox works by interfering with the nerves’ ability to signal muscles to contract. Nerves release the chemical messenger acetylcholine (ACh) at the junction where they meet up with muscle cells. Normally, ACh at the junction attaches to the cells, causing them to contract. When injected into the neck muscles, Botox and related neurotoxins stop acetylcholine’s release, preventing contractions and allowing the muscles to relax. In the case of cervical dystonia, this puts a halt to the jerky spasms that characterize the condition.
Botox injections only last for three to four months, though, so you’ll need a repeat treatment after that time to keep the spasms under control.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of cervical dystonia — or any dystonia — schedule a consultation with the neurologists at Memphis Neurology by calling either of our locations or set one up online. There’s no need to suffer when there’s a proven treatment for your condition. We can help.