What Is Acute Torticollis?

African American Woman Rubbing Neck
Acute Torticollis / Wry Neck. Sam Bloomberg-Rissman / Getty Images

What is Acute Torticollis?

Torticollis comes from two Latin words: torti (twisted) and collis (neck). Acute torticollis is a condition sometimes called wry neck. When somewhat speaks of having a "crick" in the neck, they are usually speaking about torticollis. It is a painful muscle spasm in the neck, similar to having a charlie horse in your leg.

Acute torticollis is a temporary condition that normally takes approximately two weeks to resolve.

It can be so severe, though, that the sufferer can't hold the neck straight. 

Acute torticollis is thought to have a variety of possible causes, including viral infection, nerve problems, anxiety, sleeping in an awkward position, and injury to neck or shoulders. Sometimes when people develop acute torticollis, the cause is simply never determined. The underlying reason for the pain, though, is a shortened sternocleidomastoid muscle—the muscle in the neck allows you to flex your neck forward. When one of these muscles suffers spasms, the result is torticollis. 

Acute Torticollis Symptoms

  • Limited range of motion of head or neck
  • Muscle spasms
  • Swelling of neck muscles
  • Neck and shoulder pain
  • Neck and spine contortion (neck is twisted to right or left side of body)

Pain Relief Treatments for Acute Torticollis

  • Analgesics
  • Heat packs or heating pads
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Rubs and ointments such as Icy Hot, BioFreeze, and Blue-Emu Cream
  • Massage with essential oils
  • Reiki
  • Sleep/ Relaxation
  • Supportive cervical collar
  • Chiropractic neck and spinal adjustment

Related Conditions

In addition to acute torticollis, there is also a wry neck condition called congenital torticollis that affects newborns. Babies are born with this condition due to birth trauma or injury to their necks.

 

Cervical dystonia (also called spasmodic torticollis) is a rare condition in which the neck may twist to the right or left, or in some cases tilt forward or backward.

The Holistic Approach to Pain

From a holistic point of view, any time your body is experiencing pain or distress, try to think of it an opportunity to become a more active caregiver of your own needs. Pain is merely a communication tool the body uses to let you know that there is something that needs your attention.

The acute attack of pain that is typical of torticollis is probably an indicator that you are in need of rest. Take this time to pamper yourself for a few days and allow your body's natural defenses to kick in. Get to bed early or indulge in a late afternoon power nap.

As the spasms subside and the pain lessens, consider getting a chiropractic examination. A spinal adjustment can be beneficial in returning you and your body back to a state of well-being. Chiropractor Dr. David Miller suggests any adjustment for relief of acute torticollis be held off for a few days following the onset of torticollis, to avoid inflaming or angering painful neck muscles and tissues during the acute stage of this condition.

Pain that does not go away is a sign that medical advice is required.

If rest, massage, or chiropractic care does not lessen your pain, seek the advice of an orthopedic specialist.