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Spasmodic Torticollis

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jul 4, 2022.

What is spasmodic torticollis?

Spasmodic torticollis, also called cervical dystonia, is a condition that causes your neck muscles to contract abnormally. Your neck may twist and cause your head to tilt to one side, forward, or backward. Spasmodic torticollis may occur occasionally or continuously. It often gets worse with stress.

What causes spasmodic torticollis?

The exact cause of spasmodic torticollis is unknown. This condition may happen after an injury to your cervical spine. It may also be caused by a medical condition that affects your muscles, bones, nevous system, eyes, or balance. Your risk may be higher if you have a close family member who has spasmodic torticollis.

What are other signs and symptoms of spasmodic torticollis?

You may have difficulty moving your neck. You may also have headaches, neck pain, or shoulder pain. Your neck muscles may have spasms, stiffness, or swelling.

How is spasmodic torticollis diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine your head and neck. You may also need any of the following:

  • Cervical spine x-rays may be done to check for broken bones or other problems in your neck.
  • A CT scan or MRI may be used to look for problems in your bones, muscles, brain, and blood vessels. You may be given dye to help the pictures show up better. Tell your healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.
  • Electromyography (EMG) is done to test your muscles and the nerves that control them. Electrodes (wires) are placed on the area of muscle being tested. Needles that enter your skin may be attached to the electrodes. The electrical activity of your muscles and nerves is measured by a machine attached to the electrodes. Your muscles are tested at rest and with activity.

How is spasmodic torticollis treated?

  • Medicines:
    • Muscle relaxers decrease pain and muscle spasms.
    • Botulinum toxin injections may also be given to relax your muscles.
    • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Do not give these medicines to children younger than 6 months without direction from a healthcare provider.
    • Acetaminophen decreases pain. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
    • Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask your healthcare provider how to take this medicine safely.
  • Surgery may be needed if other treatments fail. The nerves that supply the affected muscles may be cut. Sometimes the muscles of the neck may be cut or separated.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • You have swelling in your neck area that gets worse or does not go away.
  • You have an increased feeling of sadness or loneliness, or you feel depressed.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You have increased pain in your neck or shoulder.
  • You have sudden shortness of breath.
  • You have trouble moving your arms or legs.
  • Your arms or legs feel numb.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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