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

 

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