Carolyn Tiller

Carolyn TillerHow one woman put the breaks on cervical dystonia

Seventy-one-year-old Carolyn Tiller drives an hour to work in the morning and an hour home in the evening. Five days a week.

While in her late 50s, Tiller said she began to experience pain and weakness in her neck: it began to droop to the right eventually reaching her shoulder. The pain, she says, was "unbelievable." "It was so bad I couldn't wait to get off of work so I could go home and cry," says Tiller. Her doctor at that time suspected arthritis, but the medicine he gave her didn't ease the pain or the muscle weakness.

So, he sent her to a neurologist-who found that Tiller had a brain tumor, which was promptly removed. But the brain tumor had nothing to do with her head drooping to one side. Instead, she was eventually diagnosed with cervical dystonia, or spasmodic torticollis, a profoundly painful condition. Cervical dystonia is characterized by an uncontrollable tilt of the head brought on by the involuntary contraction of muscles in and around the neck.

And for years Tiller lived with the condition's accompanying weakness and pain. "I didn't like to cook or clean or exercise," said Tiller. "The pain made it so hard." And driving to and from work was difficult, too, she says. She couldn't turn her head to the right.

Her neurologist eventually referred her to Emory. She came to see Dr. Alan Freeman who started treating Tiller with botulinum toxin, or Botox. "He started giving me the Botox shots every three months," says Tiller. "About the fourth or fifth time I started seeing a difference." Botox works by blocking a substance that causes muscles to contract.

"Now, I have lots of energy," says Tiller. "Work is a lot easier. Walking is easier. I have a huge yard with tomatoes, squash, okra. I can do my yard work now. So, I would tell people if you have problems with your neck, ask your doctor if you're a candidate for Botox. It's like night and day."

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