Torticollis: Common Causes & Treatment Options

Torticollis is a very strong involuntary contraction of the neck muscles that limits neck movement and causes symptoms such as pain in the affected region and difficulty moving the head from side to side or forward and back.

Generally, torticollis is caused by poor posture, stress or overloading the neck during exercise, but it can also develop due to neck injuries, spinal problems, and, in more serious cases, a brain tumor.

If your torticollis takes a long time to improve or is associated with other symptoms like headache or fever, it is important to consult your general practitioner. Depending on its cause, treatment may involve the use of muscle relaxants, botox injections and even surgery.

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Possible causes

The main causes of torticollis are:

  • Stress
  • Neck overload when performing vigorous exercise or sleeping in inappropriate positions
  • Sudden neck movements
  • Congenital problems, when the baby is born with torticollis
  • Strabismus
  • Accidents
  • Spine diseases, such as herniated discs and scoliosis
  • Scars in the neck region
  • Respiratory or skin infections
  • Abscess in the mouth, head or neck region
  • Neurological diseases, such as Parkinson's or stroke sequelae
  • Some medications, such as metoclopramide, phenytoin or carbamazepine
  • Brain or spine tumors

Although torticollis is not always a serious problem, it can be related to a serious cause such as an infection or tumor. Therefore, identifying the underlying cause of torticollis is essential to help guide the most appropriate treatment.

Treatment options

Torticollis usually improves within a few days without specific treatment. However, if symptoms such as fever, headache, difficulty walking or double vision occur, it is important to consult a general practitioner for a thorough assessment and treatment.

Treatment for torticollis depends on the cause identified, but may involve:

1. Medications 

Medications for torticollis should only be used as prescribed by a doctor. This condition can be treated with topical anti-inflammatory creams like Voltaren, oral anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, or anti-spasmodics. Applying a medicated dressing is also a good strategy to cure the torticollis more quickly.

These medications are also prescribed for individuals with spasmodic torticollis that is characterized by persistent twitching of the neck muscles, causing your head to move in different positions. It is also known as cervical dystonia.

2. Physiotherapy

Physiotherapy is important because it can help you stretch your neck safely to reduce muscle tension. It can also be beneficial for relieving pain and improving posture that may be contributing to torticollis.

3. Botox injections

When torticollis is caused by excessive muscle contraction and does not improve with medication or physical therapy, botox injections may be recommended. These injections helps to relax the contracted muscle and correct head positioning to relieve pain.

4. Surgery

Surgery is normally only recommended when the the torticollis does not improve with other measures. It is aimed at correcting nead positioning and improving the neck's range of motion.

Other treatments

When torticollis is caused by stress, overload or sudden movements of the neck, measures such as massaging the affected area and lightly pressing the neck muscles can be helpful in relieving pain and discomfort.