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Torticollis, or more commonly known as wry neck, is an ailment that is characterized by the twisting of neck muscles, flexion or extension that is beyond the natural position. Torticollis essentially means “twisted neck” in its Latin definition, as the neck is twisted to a particular side. With this condition, the head is tilted. Torticollis develops slowly for people who have a history of the condition in the family or it can develop extremely as a result of trauma or adverse effects from medication. Torticollis treatment and management is important when the patient has spasmodic torticollis, meaning the condition is present in people with family history of the condition. It is also referred to as cervical dystonia. Initially, the twisting of the neck comes with involuntary contractions that cause irregular movements and awkward postures.

If torticollis treatment measures are not applied, the condition will become lasting. Similarly, treatment should be done immediately for cases of acute torticollis and benign paroxysmal torticollis of infancy or BPTI. Acute torticollis often appears with hardly any symptoms—just a little pain and a feeling of discomfort when a person is rotating his head or setting it straight.

This is because the neck muscles are tender and tense. For it to be effective, torticollis treatment should start with an initial diagnosis wherein the doctor will check motor function as well as nerve conditions. It is important to rule out any spinal problems. On the other hand, benign paroxysmal torticollis of infancy is a condition that occurs in infants. It is an unusual disorder where an infant keeps on tilt his heads to a side recurrently. Infants and children can develop torticollis as a result of congenital causes or trauma during childbirth.

Causes and Symptoms

When a person suffers a trauma to his neck or injury to his cervical spine, there can be muscle spasms which can lead to the twisting of neck and head muscles. Infections, such as abscesses in the throat, infection in the ears, sinuses, jaws, scalp and teeth, can likewise lead to torticollis. The infection in the neck or head can trigger an inflammation of the torticollis which will result in lymph nodes and inflamed glands in the neck area.  Infection scan actually be life-threatening because the muscles in over the lymph nodes can contract. Other causes of torticollis, though rare, can be scar tissue, tumors, vascular abnormalities and arthritis of the cervical spine.

This can result from the abuse of amphetamines, katamine and cocaine as well as neuroleptic drugs.

Torticollis Symptoms

Other symptoms that people with torticollis experience other than head bending and discomfort in the neck are protrusion of the tongue and deviation of eyes. A patient’s tongue will involuntarily stick out and his eyes will spontaneously look upward. The neck spasms can be jerky or sustained. A patient can also experience headaches, back pain, neck cramps, shoulder pain, muscle pain, burning sensations and muscle tightness. In infants, the condition may be accompanied by irritability, sleepiness and vomiting.

Don’t hesitate to seek treatment for your torticollis when the symptoms include pain and muscle stiffness. Moreover, when you suffer a neck injury and there is muscle spasm in your neck, proceed to a hospital emergency room immediately. If you suddenly experience weakness in your arms and legs, trouble with breathing, trouble swallowing, numbness in your legs and arms, impaired speech, incontinence and difficulty walking, then your central nervous system could be affected and it is not simple muscle spasm. Take your health seriously. Do not be afraid to visit the doctor especially when there is extreme discomfort.

Diagnosis and Torticollis Treatment    

A doctor will perform a medical exam and a careful study of the patient’s medical history, particularly medications taken. When a patient has a history of trauma, an x-ray may be required to rule out the case of fracture or dislocation. If a patient has degenerative arthritis or other pre-existing conditions, a neck CT scan may be needed. An internal medicine or a family medicine practitioner should be able to diagnose torticollis. Further care may be provided by an orthopedist or a physical medicine and rehab doctor.


Torticollis treatment is aimed to loosen up the muscles in the neck that are contracted. Usually, treatments can last for a few days, sometimes a few weeks. After treatment, the patient should feel comfort and ease of neck movement. Very few people, after treatment, will encounter recurring neck problems for months on end, sometimes even years. If you continually have neck spasms even after treatment, you may have to see a neurologist.

Various torticollis treatments include the following:

  • physical therapy
  • stretching
  • use of physical devices
  • medication
  • botulinum toxin
  • surgery

These medicines can help relieve symptoms. Additionally, massage therapy and the use of ice packs can mitigate symptoms and offer relief.

Home Remedies for Torticollis

There are natural torticollis treatment means and exercises that you can utilize if you prefer the alternative path. Here are some simple tips that can help you manage torticollis:

  • Use hot water bottles or heat packs to loosen the tight muscles on your neck.
  • Touch the opposite side of your face, neck or chin. With this movement, you are tricking your body into thinking there is movement on the other side and the spasms on the side where the head is tilting to will stop temporarily.
  • Lay on your back. When you lay on your side, the tilting is aggravated. By lying on your back, you will get relief.
  • Learn stress reduction techniques. Usually, the symptoms are triggered by stress and anxiety. To relieve the tension, you need to calming techniques. Try meditation, yoga, breathing exercises or aromatherapy to soothe your mind and reduce stress.
  • Practice passive stretching for infant or baby patients. Passive stretching is exercising, stretching or movement assisted by a caregiver. Adults can also benefit from passive stretching when it is too difficult for them to do on their own.
  • Stay active. Make sure that you move your neck as much as you can, but in a normal fashion.
  • Never try sudden neck movements as they can aggravate your condition. By constantly moving it, you prevent the neck muscles from stiffening up. What you can do is moving your neck in a circular motion, then move it forward and backward, then side to side. Remember to do it gently.
  • Try cervical exercises. To do this, lower your chin to your chest and support your head down with your hands so that there will be stretching pressure on your neck. Hold this position for thirty seconds then relax. Another exercise is to lower your head to the side allowing an ear to be near the shoulder and support your head down with your hands so that there will be stretching pressure on your neck. Again, hold this pose for thirty seconds then do the same to the other side.
  • Get a very gentle massage to relieve the discomfort. Using essential oils to massage the neck and head muscles will stimulate further relief. One of the best essential oils to use is lavender as it has anti-inflammatory properties as well as calming effects.

Torticollis Conditions

To avoid future or more aggravated torticollis conditions, you should improve your posture. If you can enroll in Yoga or Pilates classes, you will be able to learn and do gentle stretching exercises that are good for the muscles. Additionally, you should arrange the table and chair of your workspace. They should support good posture. Having a footrest is good so that your knees and hips are level and your feet is not flat. Make sure that the things you need are within easy reach so you don’t have to twist to get them.

Moreover, you should keep a good posture while sleeping. Do not sleep with a pillow that is too high and too hard. You should also have a support pillow for your neck. Your head should be able to turn properly with ease while driving.

You may not be able to prevent and provide treatment for torticollis, especially if it is in your family history. But don’t worry because prognosis for this condition is fairly good. This disorder will go away after a few days or a few weeks especially after torticollis treatment. If, however, the pain you are feeling is getting worse and it does not mellow in a few weeks, then you experience incontinence, numbness and fever, you should go to a doctor immediately.

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