In this article, Dr MH Marion explains why weight lifting is not advisable in cervical dystonia patients. It is taken from her blog which you can find at (N.B. Many people with dystonia find exercise helpful - so, although training with weights is sometimes not appropriate for some people with dystonia for the reasons given below, many other forms of exercise can be beneficial. It is worth discussing with your consultant what exercise is suitable). 

Don’t push your dystonia!

1. Push-ups and press-ups have become part of the life of young adults. Going to the gym is a healthy and an advisable way of keeping fit in an urban society, which expects us both to be sitting all day long in front of a computer and then to be in full shape for climbing mountains.

However, more recently using weightlifting to reinforce selectively muscle strength and to modify body shape has become part of the routine of ordinary people, who are neither athletes, nor body builders.  Weightlifting can quickly be part of the life style, with addictive personal challenges to lift heavier and heavier weights.

2. Cervical dystonia is a neurological condition, affecting young adults, resulting in an unbalanced activity of the neck muscles. Some muscles are hyperactive, and inhibit their counterpart on the other sides (reciprocal inhibition); for instance a patient with an involuntary rotation of the head to the right (right spasmodic torticollis) will have a large, hyperactive left Sterno-Cleido Mastoid muscle and a thin right Sterno-Cleido-Mastoid muscle. 

The treatment of cervical dystonia is based on botulinum injections, which correct this disequilibrium by relaxing the hyperactive muscles and on physiotherapy by reinforcing the inhibited muscles.

3. Is weight lifting contra-productive in patients with cervical dystonia?

I had the opportunity to treat few patients with cervical dystonia who were adept at weight lifting practice. These patients require larger doses of botulinum toxin, even if the small number of cases doesn’t allow any scientific conclusion. This could be explained by the fact that the exercised muscles became larger and stronger.

But the question is which exercises have an impact on the neck muscles and are some exercise worse than others, because they target neck muscles involved in the dystonia?

I had the opportunity to discuss resistance training exercises with a specialized exercise instructor , Mr Rajah James who gave me a reference book “Strength training anatomy” from Frederic Delavier. Every resistance training exercise is analysed in terms of functional anatomy with detailed illustrations of which muscles are targeted for each exercise. It’s an amazing book full of details and drawing, that I will strongly advise to anybody interested in exercising against resistance.

Exercises to avoid at any cost:



The neck muscles are involved in the erect posture of the neck, in another words keeping the neck straight; any weight lifting will tense the neck muscles to stabilize the neck during the effort.

More specifically, shoulders muscles such as Trapezius and Levator scapulae elevate the shoulder but also are involved in the rotation, lateral flexion and extension of the neck.

Lateral Arm Raises and Shoulder Shrugs (Machine and Dumbbells shrugs), have to be avoided at any cost; they both reinforce the Trapezius in his upper and anterior part and in addition the shrugs reinforce the Levator Scapulae.

Back Press, Front Press, and Dumbbell Press are reinforcing the Trapezius muscles in its upper part.

Therefore I advise strongly against any weight lifting exercise in case of cervical dystonia; it can worsen the dystonia by reinforcing the dystonic muscles and increase the muscle imbalance and also it can partially compromise the effect of the botulinum toxin injections.

Physiotherapy for cervical dystonia

The retraining of the cervical muscles, which are becoming less active because of the dystonia, and the stretching of the overactive muscles are a very important part of the treatment. Jean-Pierre Bleton in Paris has written extensively about his original approach of physiotherapy with dystonic patients. Click here to read an introduction. (N.B. this article is in Google books and the complete article is not shown).


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.