Torticollis, Wryneck Symptoms and Causes

Torticollis, also known as wryneck, is a twisted neck in which the head is tipped to one side, while the chin is turned to the other. Torticollis may develop in adulthood or childhood.

Torticollis Symptoms

You may experience one or more of these symptoms of torticollis.

  • Limited range of motion of the head
  • Neck pain or pain along your shoulders
  • Neck stiffness
  • Swelling of neck muscles (possibly present at birth)
  • Inability to turn your head and holding it twisted to one side
  • Headache
  • Neck muscle spasms that can be sharp and very painful
  • Awkward position of your chin
  • Head tremor
  • One shoulder higher than the other

Torticollis Causes

In some instances, torticollis or wryneck has no known cause and is referred to as idiopathic torticollis. Known causes of torticollis include:

  • Inherited – you can inherit genes with certain characteristics that cause torticollis.
  • Acquired – develops as a result of irritation to the nerves of the neck from trauma or vigorous movement. Other acquired torticollis causes are:
    • Sleeping in an awkward position
    • Anxiety
    • Neck muscle injury at birth
    • Burn injury
    • Any injury that causes scarring and skin shrinkage
    • Neck muscle spasms
  • Congenital – torticollis may be present at birth, a result of problems during fetal development. One cause of torticollis may be that the fetus' head was in the wrong position while growing in the womb or because the muscles or blood supply to the fetus' neck were injured. Congenital muscular torticollis (wryneck) is usually discovered in the first 6 to 8 weeks of life, because the infant keeps his or her head tilted to one side and has difficulty turning the head to the opposite side.
  • Secondary condition – torticollis may be a secondary condition resulting from a slipped facet (two small joints the spine), a herniated disc, or a viral or bacterial infection.

Torticollis Treatment

Treatment for congenital torticollis ranges from neck muscle stretching to surgery. Treatment for acquired torticollis depends on the underlying cause of the disorder and rarely justifies surgery.

The multidisciplinary team of orthopaedic experts at North Shore-LIJ Orthopaedic Institute's Foot and Ankle Services in New York treats torticollis as well as a broad range of foot and ankle conditions that can occur at any stage of life.

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