How To Treat Torticollis: 5 Simple Steps

Torticollis is an involuntary contraction of the neck muscles that can be caused by poor posture when sleeping or when using the computer, causing pain in one side of the neck which may result in difficulty in moving your head.

It is common to wake up with torticollis and have difficulty moving the neck. In some cases, the muscles get so tight that the person cannot move the neck to either side and walks like a 'robot', for example.

In order to cure torticollis and eliminate neck pain it is necessary to fight the involuntary contraction of the muscles in the neck. Mild torticollis can be relieved only by using warm patches and gentle neck massage, but when the torticollis is more severe some specific techniques may be used.

How To Treat Torticollis: 5 Simple Steps

To treat torticollis there are 5 simples steps that can be followed:

1. Tilt your body forward

Simply stand with your legs apart and lean your body forward, leaving your head hanging. The goal is to allow your head and arms to be loose, and you should stay in that position for about 2 minutes. This will cause the weight of your head to act as a pendulum, which may increase the space between the cervical vertebrae and decrease the spasm of the neck muscles.

You can also move your head with small movements to one side or to the other, just to make sure that the muscles of the shoulders and the neck are more relaxed.

2. Apply pressure to the neck muscles

This technique consists of using your thumb to apply pressure for 30 seconds to the middle of the muscle. Then, you have to press the part where the muscles begin, in the nape of the neck, for another 30 seconds. During this part of the treatment you can be standing or sitting and you head should be facing forward.

3. Physiotherapy

Physiotherapy is important because it can help you stretch your neck using a technique called muscular energy. This involves placing a hand (on the side of the torticollis) on the head and exerting force by pushing the head against the hand. Hold this position for 5 seconds and then relax, resting for another 5 seconds. Repeat this exercise 4 more times. Little by little your range of motion will improve.

If after you finish the exercise there is still movement limitation you can repeat the movement to the opposite side. This means that if the pain is on the right side you should put your left hand on your head and make force with your head and push on the hand. Hold this force without taking your head off for 5 seconds and then rest for another 5 seconds. This will stretch the muscles on the left side, which is that affected.

4. Massage and compresses

Massaging the neck using sweet almond oil or some other moisturizer is also a good way to decrease pain and discomfort. The massage should be performed on the shoulders, neck, back of the neck and head, but should only be performed in the final part of the treatment, after having performed the exercises and techniques previously indicated.

This type of massage should not be performed with a lot of force, but you can press your palm a little on the muscles of the neck, from the shoulders towards the ears. Small silicone cups that form a vacuum inside can also be used with little pressure to increase blood flow and help loosen the muscle fibers.

Finally, a warm compress can be placed on the neck, letting it act for about 20 minutes.

5. Remedies for torticollis

Medications for torticollis should only be used on the recommendation of a doctor and usually include anti-inflammatory ointments such as Cataflan, muscle relaxants, or anti-spasmodic medicines such as Ana-flex, Torsilax, Coltrax or Mioflax, for example. Applying a compress like Salonpas is also a good strategy to cure the torticollis more quickly.

These remedies are also recommended for individuals with spasmodic torticollis, which is a type of torticollis that recurrently occurs in several members of the same family.

When to go to the doctor

Usually the torticollis improves after the first 24 hours, and tends to last from 3 to 5 days. Therefore, if the torticollis takes more than 1 week to heal, or if symptoms such as tingling, loss of arm strength, difficulty in breathing or swallowing, fever or if you cannot control urine or your stools, you should seek medical help.

How long does torticollis last

Usually torticollis lasts a maximum of 3 days, but causes a lot of pain and discomfort, making day to day chores very difficult. Putting warm compresses on the neck and using the strategies indicated above is recommended for curing torticollis faster.

What causes torticollis

It is very common for a person to wake up with torticollis, but it can also happen due to:

  • Congenital problems, like when a baby is born with congenital torticollis, requiring treatment, sometimes surgical;
  • Injuries involving the head and neck;
  • Spinal changes, such as disc herniation, scoliosis, alteration of the C1 & C2 vertebrae in the neck;
  • Respiratory system infections, which cause torticollis and fever, or others such as meningitis;
  • Presence of a mouth, head or neck abscess;
  • In case of diseases like Parkinson's, where the muscles are more prone to spasms;
  • Taking certain medications, such as traditional dopamine receptor blockers, metoclopramide, phenytoin or carbamazepine.

The most common type of torticollis usually lasts 48 hours and is easy to fix. But, when there are other symptoms like fever, you should go to a doctor for an evaluation. Some remedies that can be recommended by the doctor include Diprospan, Miosan and Torsilax, for example.

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References

  • BMJ BEST PRACTICE. Torcicolo adquirido. 2018. Available on: <https://bestpractice.bmj.com/topics/pt-br/1088>. Access in 15 Apr 2019
  • KISNER, Carolyn; COLBY Lynn Allen. Exercícios terapêuticos: Fundamentos e Técnicas. 6ª.ed. São Paulo: Manole, 2016. 318-323; 491-496.
  • Mark Dutton. Fisioterapia ortopédica: exame, avaliação e intervenção. 2ª.ed. Porto Alegre: Artmed, 2010. 383-404.
  • KENDALL, Florence Peterson; MC CREARY, Elisabeth Kendall; PROVANCE, Patricia Geise. Músculos: provas e funções, com postura e dor. 4.ed. São Paulo: Manole, 333-339.
  • MONTUFAR HUASASQUICHE, Diego Alonso. Distonia cervical: Tratamento Fisioterapeutico. 2017. Universidad Inca Garcilaso De La Vega.
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