Torticollis (Wry Neck): Definition, Symptoms, Treatment, Duration

Torticollis can occur in babies, children and adults alike. It can be caused by a number of things but the most frequent cause is an abnormal or asymmetric head position. Although it's often a relatively minor disease, it's important to know the symptoms, what the causes are and how to treat it.

Torticollis: Treatment, Duration, What To Do When You Have Torticollis?
Torticollis: Treatment, Duration, What To Do When You Have Torticollis?

Definition: what is torticollis?

Torticollis is a painful and involuntary contraction of the neck muscles. It often involves the sternocleidomastoid muscles and the trapezius muscles. The term torticollis comes from the latin tortum collum which means ‘twisted neck’.

Symptoms: how to recognize torticollis?

The symptoms of torticollis are easily identifiable. The neck muscles contract and stiffen, which causes the head to get stuck on one side of another. Every movement therefore becomes difficult and extremely painful. In some cases, the pain can even move along the arms, into the shoulders and the top of the back. Torticollis lasts generally no longer than 5 days but can also be just for a few hours.

If it is accompanied by a fever or vomiting, torticollis is therefore the symptom of a more serious illness such as meningitis.

Causes and types of torticollis

We can differentiate between several types of torticollis. Common torticollis or acute torticollis is often benign. It is often experienced in the morning after sleeping in a funny position. It often disappears by itself over the course of the day.

Spasmodic torticollis is must more inconvenient. It occurs suddenly and painfully, quite often when you move into a different position. The muscles violently spasm and the neck is therefore locked in a certain position. Moving the head in the other direction becomes painful or impossible.

Congenital torticollis appears from birth. It occurs in children who have rested in a bad position in the uterus or the neck is damaged during their birth when they are being delivered. This type is relatively rare (around 4 in 1000 babies) but is taken very seriously. It is often accompanied by plagiocephaly (flattening of the skull) and can lead to scoliosis in future or co-ordination problems with the childs eyes.

Treating torticollis

In cases of torticollis, it is important to rest the neck muscles. Wearing a neck brace for several days prevents a sufferer from making quick and painful movements. Applying heat to the area can also help to relax the muscles.

If the pain continues, doctors may prescribe anti-inflammatories and painkillers as well as muscles relaxants. Likewise, physiotherapy or osteopathy can help to relieve the pain.

In newborn babies who are affected by congenital torticollis, physiotherapy can limit the consequences. The earlier the physiotherapy begins, the less the child will suffer from repercussions. To