Among the neurological disorders that may affect children is cervical dystonia, characterized by involuntary contractions of neck muscles. These painful movements stem from abnormal messages sent by the brain to the muscles, which undermine control of motor functions. A child with cervical dystonia may experience problems with their posture and uncomfortable twisting motions. This condition may accompany cerebral palsy and similar disorders. While a child may find that their condition stabilizes or improves over time, some children who suffer from cervical dystonia experience worsening symptoms.
Sometimes cervical dystonia arises from trauma during the childbirth process. For example, a doctor may exert too much force during delivery when grasping the head and neck. Cervical dystonia also may result from athetoid cerebral palsy, sometimes known as dyskinetic cerebral palsy. This condition involves damage to areas of the brain that help regulate motor functions, among other things. Brain trauma during childbirth, oxygen deprivation, or infections may cause athetoid cerebral palsy.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Cervical Dystonia
While some cases of cervical dystonia arise suddenly, most cases develop gradually over time. Symptoms may get worse during the course of each day. A child who suffers from this condition may experience headaches, pain in the neck and shoulders, and uncontrollable jerking of their head. For example, their chin may jerk up, down, or sideways, leaving their head in an unnatural position. Their head also may jerk at an angle from an ear toward a shoulder. Broader consequences of this condition may include delays in developing motor functions, such as walking, or problems with maintaining balance. Sometimes muscle contractions will spread to the arms, torso, or other areas adjacent to the head and neck.
Testing for Cervical Dystonia
Doctors may conduct blood tests, genetic testing, and MRIs to determine whether a child has developed cervical dystonia. They also may use electromyography, which tracks the electrical activity in skeletal muscles.
Treatment for Cervical Dystonia
Unfortunately, medical experts have not developed a cure for cervical dystonia. Children with this condition generally will need treatment to alleviate their symptoms and avoid bone deformities as they grow. One form of treatment involves injecting medication into the affected area, which can calm contractions caused by cervical dystonia. A treatment plan may provide for repeated injections and may combine them with muscle relaxants consumed orally.
A doctor also may recommend physical, occupational, and speech therapy to help relax muscles while improving range of motion and communication. Simple sensory tricks like touching a relaxed area of the head or neck can provide relief, although this may work only in the early stages of cervical dystonia. In some severe cases, a child may need to resort to surgical intervention.
Surgeries for Cervical Dystonia
Sometimes a surgeon might cut the nerves that are sending the abnormal signals from the brain to the spasming muscle groups. Another procedure that may alleviate symptoms is deep brain stimulation, which involves inserting a wire into the brain through a hole in the skull. Once it reaches the area that regulates movement, the wire can transmit electrical pulses that disrupt the abnormal signals traveling through the nerves.
Legal Claims Arising From Cervical Dystonia
Cervical dystonia is a complex condition that may have several potential causes, and its origin is not always obvious. However, this condition or other disorders that lead to it, such as athetoid cerebral palsy, may arise from medical malpractice during childbirth. If this happens, parents of an afflicted child may pursue compensation through a birth injury lawsuit. They should promptly consult a lawyer to make sure that they bring any viable claim before the statute of limitations runs out. This is a procedural rule that generally requires a lawsuit to be brought within a certain time.
Proving liability for cervical dystonia involves showing that a doctor failed to monitor, diagnose, or treat a child in accordance with the applicable standard of care. In medical malpractice cases such as claims arising from birth injuries, the standard of care consists of what a competent doctor in the same area of practice would do in a similar situation. These lawsuits tend to hinge on expert testimony about the standard of care and any actions by a doctor that may have deviated from it. If a family prevails in their lawsuit, they may be able to obtain compensation for medications, therapy, surgery, and any other costs arising from cervical dystonia. Non-economic damages like pain and suffering often may be recovered as well.