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What is torticollis?

Torticollis, also known as wryneck or twisted neck, 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 often unknown.

Congenital muscular torticollis is a condition you are born with. It's more likely to happen in firstborn children. This may also be accompanied by a congenital hip dislocation. The cause is likely from the baby’s position in the uterus, which leads to injury to the neck muscles.

Acquired torticollis may be caused by irritation to the cervical ligaments from a viral infection, injury, or vigorous movement. Additional causes may include:

  • Sleeping in an awkward position

  • Neck muscle injury at birth

  • Burn injury

  • Any injury that causes heavy scarring and skin or muscle shrinkage

  • Neck muscle spasm

Torticollis may also be a condition that results from the following:

  • Slipped facets (two small joints on the side of the spine)

  • Herniated disk

  • Viral or bacterial infection

What are the symptoms of torticollis?

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

  • Neck muscle pain or pain down the spine

  • Head tilts to one side

  • 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 look like other conditions and medical problems. Always talk with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is torticollis diagnosed?

Diagnosis of torticollis usually is confirmed with a medical history and physical exam. X-rays and MRI may also be needed.

How is torticollis treated?

Treatment may include:

  • Neck collar

  • Heat therapy

  • Ultrasound therapy

  • Physical therapy

  • Surgery

  • Medicines

When should I call my healthcare provider?

If your symptoms have not improved within the time frame suggested by your healthcare provider, you should let them know. Also, if your symptoms get worse or you get new symptoms, tell your healthcare provider.

Key points about torticollis

  • It's a twisting of the neck that causes the head to rotate and tilt at an odd angle.

  • The exact cause is often unknown. It can be congenital or acquired.

  • Diagnosis is usually confirmed by history and physical exam.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.

  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.

  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.

  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.

  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are and when they should be reported.

  • Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.

  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.

  • Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.

  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.

  • Know how you can contact your healthcare provider if you have questions, especially after office hours or on weekends and holidays.