Torticollis, also known as "wryneck," occurs when a problem with the neck muscle makes the head turn to one side, lean to one side, and/or be pulled forward or backward. There are two types, congenital (at birth) and spasmodic.
Congenital torticollis occurs at or shortly after birth. The neck muscle (sternocleidomastoid muscle) is shortened, bringing the infant's head slightly down and to one side. Experts don't know exactly what causes the shortened neck muscle. The muscle may get injured before or during the baby's birth. The injured muscle may bleed and swell. And scar tissue may replace some of the muscle, making it shorter.
Some cases of congenital torticollis are caused by a bone abnormality in the neck portion of the spine (cervical spine).
Spasmodic torticollis occurs when the neck muscle is tight but not short. It is a form of dystonia, which means involuntary movements and prolonged muscle contraction. It is usually a symptom of another medical problem. Infection, inflammation, medicine side effects, and tics are known causes of torticollis muscle spasm.
In children, treatment is needed to prevent the face from growing unevenly. The caregiver is taught how and how often to stretch the child's neck to help relieve torticollis. For severe cases, surgery may be needed.
In adults, treatment includes using heat and massage to help relieve head and neck pain. Stretching exercises and neck braces may help with muscle spasms. Medicines and injections are also used.
Last Revised: July 26, 2013
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: John Pope, MD - Pediatrics & Robert B. Keller, MD - Orthopedics
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