The geste antagoniste (moving an arm to the face or head) is a well-known clinical feature in cervical dystonia (CD) to alleviate the abnormal posture. The clinical phenomenology of these manoeuvres has not so far been assessed systematically. Fifty patients with idiopathic CD aware of at least one geste antagoniste (60% women, mean age at onset 44.1 years, mean disease duration 7.5 years) were subjected to a standardized investigation including a semiquantitative clinical rating scale and polymyographic recordings of six cervical muscles. Twenty-seven patients (54%) demonstrated more than one geste antagoniste (range 2-5). A clinically significant (> or = 30%) reduction of head deviation was observed in 41 patients (82 %). Dystonic head posture improved by a mean of 60 % along all planes by the geste manoeuvre with a complete cessation of head oscillations in nine of 33 patients (27 %) with phasic CD. No significant laterality of the "geste-arm" or the facial target area was found. The duration of geste-effects depended significantly on disease duration and determined the patient's self-rating of the benefit of the manoeuvre. EMG-polygraphy revealed two types of geste-induced polymyographic changes: a decrease in recruitment density and amplitude in at least one dystonic muscle (66%), and an increased tonic muscle activation in the remaining patients. The remarkable efficacy of the geste antagoniste and the considerable variety in performance, duration, and EMG-pattern of these manoeuvres warrant further investigation of the therapeutic use of sensorimotor stimulation, in particular for those CD patients who experience limited or no effect from botulinum toxin therapy.