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What is torticollis?

Torticollis or "wry neck" is a condition where the neck is turned making the head tilt toward one shoulder and the chin point towards the opposite shoulder.

How does it occur?

Torticollis may have many different causes. Congenital muscular torticollis is the most common form and babies are born with it.

Spasmodic torticollis is most common in middle-aged adults and is more common in women. In spasmodic torticollis, the muscles around the neck may spasm off and on or all the time. The exact cause is unknown.

Torticollis can sometimes by caused by an injury or inflammation. The inflammation can be due to an upper respiratory infection or sore throat. The swelling causes the tissue that surrounds the upper spine to loosen. This causes the neck muscles to spasm and the head to tilt to one side. Torticollis may be a symptom of another disorder.

What are the symptoms of torticollis?

The main symptom of any kind of torticollis is a crooked head and neck. Often the neck is stiff or sore and cannot be straightened.

People with spasmodic torticollis usually have constant and severe pain. Muscle spasms of the neck muscles usually happen on one side of the neck. Spasmodic torticollis starts slowly and gradually gets worse in 2 to 5 years.

How is torticollis diagnosed?

A healthcare provider will examine the neck. You will have neck X-rays to make sure there are no problems with the vertebrae in the neck.

How is it treated?

Torticollis can cause permanent facial deformity if it lasts longer than 1 year, so treatment is important. Treatment depends on the cause. It may get better with a simple treatment, such as doing physical therapy exercises and taking nonprescription medicines.

Botox injections relieve both the pain and the muscle spasms. They are safe and are standard treatment for torticollis. Botox injections wear off in about 3 months, so you may need to repeat the injections.

Other treatments include wearing a soft orthopedic collar, traction, heat therapy, or rarely, surgery. The goal of therapy is to reduce or stop the muscle spasms and pain.

How long will it last?

If you are doing physical therapy, the recovery process usually lasts 8 to 12 weeks until you are able to return to full strenuous activity. You will be able to do many daily activities much sooner than this.

You can return to more strenuous activities when you:

  • have full range of motion in your neck
  • can move you neck without pain
  • have full strength in the muscles of your neck

If you play sports, ask your physical therapist or healthcare provider when you can return to play. When you return may depend on your sport or what position you play.

Disclaimer: This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information provided is intended to be informative and educational and is not a replacement for professional medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.

HIA File orre3250.htm Release 13/2010

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