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Botox for cervical dystonia: Neck Botox explained

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll have heard about how Botox is great for reducing lines and wrinkles. But did you know it’s also great for treating several medical issues, including cervical dystonia? So, what is cervical dystonia, and how exactly does Botox for cervical dystonia work? Let’s take a look...

What is cervical dystonia?

Cervical dystonia (also referred to as neck dystonia or spasmodic torticollis) is a neurological disorder that is characterised by involuntary muscle spasms and movements in the neck and often an awkward posture. Messages are incorrectly sent to the muscles that cause them to move even when we don’t need them to. If you have cervical dystonia, I don’t need to tell you how uncomfortable, painful (and sometimes even embarrassing) this can be.

Neck dystonia is one of several types of dystonia, and only affects around 18,000 people in the UK. While it is sometimes passed on genetically, it is not always clear what causes the condition, and there is no current cure for it. However, the symptoms can often be alleviated by Botox injections - yes, that’s right - the same kind of toxin that can be injected into the forehead to reduce lines and wrinkles.

How does Botox help treat cervical dystonia?

While Botox has been huge in the world of aesthetics for the last few decades, you might be surprised to learn that it has actually been around for much longer for medical usage. It was first discovered as a relaxant for overactive muscles in the 1950s, and, in the 1970s, it was approved by the FDA as a safe and effective treatment for neck spasms.

It’s worth noting that Botox is just one of several brands of botulinum toxin. When injected into the target area (in this case the muscle that’s causing the neck to spasm) in small doses, botulinum toxin gets to work by blocking the signals between the nerves and the muscles. This temporarily relaxes the muscles and reduces the spasms and other symptoms of cervical dystonia. In order to more effectively identify the muscle(s) in question, doctors will sometimes use an Electromyography (EMG) as it can be difficult to know exactly which muscles are the issue with cervical dystonia.

It generally takes between 3 and 14 days for the Botox to take effect, but this can vary from person to person. The effects of Botox then usually last between 3 and 6 months, but this will depend on how quickly your body metabolises it.

What are the side effects of Botox for cervical dystonia?

As with many treatments, neck Botox can sometimes result in side effects. The most common include neck pain and headaches, and you may also find that you have a bit of redness, bleeding or swelling in the area that’s been injected. Less common side effects include head drooping and difficulty swallowing. If you experience either of these, contact your practitioner for best advice. You can find out more about the dos and don’ts before and after Botox injections here.

If you think you might have cervical dystonia, speak to your GP first as they will be able to direct you to a neurologist to determine whether Botox is the right treatment for you.

For more on all things Botox, have a read through our handy treatment guide.

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