The term torticollis is defined as an abnormal positioning of the neck, with an inclination of the head. The cause may originate in the nervous system, joints, skin or be psychiatric in nature. However, in the vast majority of cases, it is of muscular origin. This type of torticollis is due to a painful contracture, usually of a sterno-mastoid muscle, located at the front of each side of the neck, which can tilt the head to the opposite side. Other muscles are rarely involved. The person who is affected suffers in the neck and upper back and cannot move his head properly as neck movements are too painful. Torticollis can be acute or accidental, caused by a wrong movement, a violent shock, or bad posture.
The symptoms of torticollis are easily recognizable:
- the neck is stiff, the sufferer is unable to move his head naturally without pain;
- the neck is tilted to the side, slightly forward or backward depending on the pain.
The diagnosis is established by a professional who will perform a palpation of the neck and upper back and a questioning of the patient to know the intensity and location of the pain. In the case of physical trauma, such as after an accident, the doctor may ask for an X-ray to eliminate any doubt about another condition. But in the typical presentation of torticollis and in the context of a false movement, no further investigation is necessary.
Heat having a beneficial effect on contractions, it is advisable to protect the neck by covering it with a scarf, or heat it with a hot water bottle. To stop the pain, the doctor may recommend anti-inflammatory drugs
or muscle relaxants. A foam cervical collar can help a patient make it through a particularly painful bout, but should not be left in place too long, because resting the neck muscles too long may be responsible for even greater pain once the collar is removed. In general, pain fades and disappears after three days.
Torticollis is caused by a too sudden movement, poor neck positioning or a continuous current of air on the neck. It is therefore advisable to cover the neck, to adjust its position, and avoid twisting it with sudden movements.