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Torticollis (Wryneck)

What is torticollis?

Torticollis, also known as wryneck, is a twisting of the neck that causes the head to rotate and tilt at an odd angle.

What causes torticollis?

The exact cause of torticollis is unknown. One theory is that inherited (congenital) torticollis is caused by soft tissue compression of the neck during delivery that leads to swelling, degeneration of the muscle fibers, and the muscle fibrosis (excessive connective tissue). If there is too much connective tissue, the muscle fibers will be less elastic, resulting in twisting of the neck.

Acquired torticollis may be caused by irritation to the cervical nerves from trauma or vigorous movement.  Additional causes may include:

  • sleeping in an awkward position
  • anxiety
  • neck muscle injury at birth
  • burn injury
  • any injury that causes heavy scarring and skin shrinkage
  • neck muscle spasm
Torticollis may also be a secondary condition that results from the following:
  • slipped facette (two small joints on the side of the spine)
  • herniated disc
  • viral or bacterial infection

What are the symptoms of torticollis?

The following are the most common symptoms of torticollis. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • neck muscle pain or pain down the spine
  • inability to turn the head, usually holding it twisted to one side
  • spasm of the neck muscles
  • awkward position of the chin

The symptoms of torticollis may resemble other conditions and medical problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

How is torticollis diagnosed?

Diagnosis of torticollis usually is confirmed with a medical history and physical examination.

Treatment for torticollis:

Specific treatment for torticollis will be determined by your physician based on:

  • your age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the condition
  • your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the condition
  • your opinion or preference

Treatment may include:

  • cervical collar
  • heat therapy
  • ultrasound therapy
  • physical therapy
  • surgery

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