Treatment of spasmodic torticollis by a psycho-motor retraining: A method developed 100 years ago by Henry Meige

I was invited last week to lecture at the University of Liege ( Belgium ) about the understanding of dystonia by Henry Meige, a French neurologist . I went back to his original publications and found that he advocated in 1907 a psycho-motor retraining (“discipline psycho-motrice”) for the treatment of spasmodic torticollis…

The Magic Mirror, Magritte, 1929


Treatment of spasmodic torticollis by a psycho-motor retraining:  A method developed 100 years ago by Henry Meige

I was invited last week by Professor Gustave Moonen to lecture at the University of Liege (Belgium) about the understanding of dystonia by Henry Meige, a French neurologist.

I went back to his original publications and found that he advocated in 1907 a psycho-motor retraining (“discipline psycho-motrice”) for the treatment of spasmodic torticollis. It was at the time when there was no routine use of anticholinergics and Botox injection for cervical dystonia was not even a blip on the horizon. I could not resist to give you the translation of this therapeutic approach that I found quite inspiring…

1-The patient becomes actor of his treatment: “I don’t say the patient is cured, but the patient has cured himself”. This treatment is based on regular immobilizations and movements in front of a mirror; the patient has to be supported by his family and his doctor, as these daily exercises require a lot of effort and determination from the patient. “The goal of the treatment is to correct the abnormal postures, the put at rest the hyperactive muscles and to learn the control of the motor acts.”

2-The patient needs to have a regular life, going to bed at regular times. The patient is told that the course of the disease will be capricious, that he will have to perseverate and that the exercises will be eventually beneficial.

3-The patient had to exercise in front of a mirror 3 times a day; the patient is sitting, back non supported and hands flat on a table. The mirror is divided by 1 vertical line going through the middle of the face and 2 horizontal lines, through the alignment of the eyes and through the base of the neck above the shoulders, in order for the patient to be aware of the movement of his head. The patient is asked to focus on the point of crossing of the first 2 lines.


4-Two types of exercises:

 1-Immobilization: for 5 seconds 10 times with 15 seconds rest in between each immobilizations, increasing of 5 seconds every day the immobilization time.

2- Movement: slow and smooth movement, without saccade of the head in rotation, lateral flexion, flexion forward and extension; also movements of the shoulders, arms and trunk and exercises of relaxation of the muscles.

Then also in front of the mirror, exercises of writing, reading, breathing and speaking and daily tasks exercises.

5- Cervical dystonia has a good prognosis:

 Henry Meige was convinced that over the years the cervical dystonia always settle down, with the dystonic spasms becoming less severe and less frequent, until they disappear; the patient is left with only neck stiffness. He did not give any figure of proportion of patients who improved, but they were patients followed for more than 5 years.

6-Since the 80’s, physiotherapy for cervical dystonia has been developed by Jean-Pierre Bleton in France, but still remains a French specialty despite individual effort to develop it abroad.

Botox injections had become the first line treatment for cervical dystonia,, leaving the patient in the passive expectation of his injections every 3 months.

The mirror is still a very important tool in the therapeutic approach of neck dystonia as the patient is very inaccurate when assessing the position of his head, thinking that his head is straight when in reality the head posture has a 20 degrees tilt or rotation.

May be it’s the time for patients with cervical dystonia to become actor of their treatment and to look for a therapeutic strategy including Botox injections and “psycho-motor retraining “  without forgetting the role of the mirror, like Magritte, a Belgium painter…

Meige H : Les peripeties d’ un torticolis mental. Histoire clinique et therapeutique.. Nouvelle iconographie de la Salpetriere. 1907, 6:461-480


Don’t push your dystonia!

 Push up and Press up have became part of the life of young adults…

Dr MH Marion explains why weight lifting is not advisable in cervical dystonia patients…


Don’t push your dystonia!


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

However, it’s more recent that weight lifting to reinforce selectively muscle strength and to modify body shape is part of the routine of ordinary people, who are neither athletes, nor body builders.  Weight lifting 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. For a better understanding, read the blog “What makes my head turn?”.

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 of 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 explain 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 worst than others, by targeting 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.

4-. 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 unbalamnce and also it can partially compromise the effect of the Botox injections.

5- 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.

Frederic Delavier: Strength Training Anatomy

Jean Pierre Bleton : Role of the physiotherapist in the treatment of dystonia anatomy.htm