Torticollis is a condition relating to the muscles of the neck that causes the head to be fixed in an abnormal position. The term translates from Latin and it means twisted neck although the condition is sometimes known as wryneck. This condition is seen typically in babies from birth. If this is the case then the condition is referred to as congenital muscular torticollis. If the condition is developed over the years after birth then it is called acquired torticollis although acquired torticollis may be an indicator of more serious pathologies.
Common symptoms of torticollis are shown below in adults It tends to be occur spasmodically:
Tension and tenderness – spasmodic torticollis with the abnormal contraction of muscle fibres on one side of the neck. In turn this causes the head to tilt to one side with the feeling of tension, tightness and tenderness.
Muscles spasms – with spasmodic torticollis, the neck muscles may spasm at times sometimes for long bouts and at other times much less so.
Altered posture – Tension and tenderness in the neck causes the body to naturally want to compensate with an altered movement. Therefore those suffering with a spasm in the neck will try to avoid tilting or twisting to one side. (normally the painful side)
Decreased range of motion – due to muscle spans and change in muscle function and length is can be difficult to move the neck through its natural movements. In doing so. it can become very painful and lead to headaches, muscular pain and neck cramps
Once cause of torticollis is cervical dystonia. This is a condition with abnormal movements of structures in the neck and it normally affects people age over forty. This condition can range in severity from mild to severe. There is no cure for this although regular injections to relax the muscles often help reduce symptoms.
In rare cases torticollis could be a result of:
A side effect of certain medications
Abnormalities or injury in the cervical spine (from the shoulder level up)
As a side effect of certain medicines
Short term aims of torticollis are to reduce the level in pain and to reduce stiffness caused by muscles spasm. Although symptoms of torticollis should start to improve after twenty four to forty eight hours it can take up to seven days to gain full movement back in the neck.
- Firstly, keep your neck moving as much as possible, in some cases if the spams and tension in the neck are severe you may need to rest for twenty four hours to allow the muscles around the neck to relax before moving them further.
- The most important part of this process is that the neck does not become too stiff from not moving it. Gradually, several times each day you should gently put the neck through each movement to try and restore movement. Note that you will not cause any damage to your neck by moving it while pain is present.
- Use a firm, supporting pillow to aid the stabilising muscles of the neck when you sleep and promote good neck posture.
- Heat packs – heat will reduce the stiffness within the neck muscles and are very useful for some people. Place a heat pack on the affected area for ten minutes several times a day to try and relax the area.
Painkillers are often valuable in reducing symptoms of torticollis.
Before taking any medication, it is always advised that you seek medical advice to ensure that it is safe. In addition, if a baby has torticollis, they should be immediately seen a health professional as torticollis can be a result of a much more severe pathology.