Sometimes the muscles in the neck can start to contract involuntarily. These contractions are often painful.
The first course of action if neck muscle contractions appear is always to consult a doctor.
Sometimes a doctor may not know what is causing the problem or prescribes treatments that do not seem to work. This is understandable, as muscle contractions have a wide range of causes and no General Practitioner (GP) can know all of them.
In this case, one possible cause is a neck dystonia (the medical term for this is Spasmodic Torticollis or Cervical Dystonia). The symptoms of neck dystonia vary and may be one or more of the following:
1. The feeling that the neck/head is being pulled to one side
2. Alternatively, the neck/head feels as if it is being pulled backwards or forwards
3. Painful muscle spasms or stiffness in the neck
4. As a result, abnormal posture with the neck/head being held at an angle
5. Difficulty turning the neck/head one way with relative ease turning the neck the other way
Some examples of involuntary head positions caused by neck dystonia are shown below:
Neck dystonia commonly appears in people between the ages of 30 and 50 but does sometimes affect younger people. It is one form of dystonia – a condition that causes uncontrollable and often painful muscle contractions believed to be as a result of incorrect messages from the brain to the muscles.
Dystonia is a neurological movement disorder and, if the symptoms listed above appear, the correct course of action is for a GP to make a referral to a neurologist specialising in movement disorders. There are treatments for neck dystonia that can significantly reduce the symptoms in the majority of cases.
Only a specialist neurologist has the knowledge and skill to diagnose and treat neck dystonia. If the patient and their GP agree that the symptoms might possibly indicate neck dystonia then the GP should refer the patient to such a specialist.
The Dystonia Society provides the information on this page as general information only. It is not intended to provide instruction and you should not rely on this information to determine diagnosis, prognosis or a course of treatment. It should not be used in place of a professional consultation with a doctor.
The Dystonia Society is not responsible for the consequences of your decisions resulting from the use of this information, including, but not limited to, your choosing to seek or not to seek professional medical care, or from choosing or not choosing specific treatment based on the information. You should not disregard the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider because of any information you receive from us. If you have any health care questions, please consult the relevant medical practitioner.
Last reviewed February 2014