By Sydney CBD Osteopath Dr Abbey Davidson
What is Torticollis and Pseudo-Torticollis?
Torticollis, commonly known as ‘wry neck’, is Latin for twisted neck and is caused by the shortening or spasm of the sternocleidomastoid (or SCM) muscle. The SCM is a rope-like muscle which runs from the base of the skull to the collar bone, and is responsible for some major head and neck motions. There are different types of torticollis, with this post focusing specifically on Pseudo-torticollis. Pseudo-torticollis often has no recognisable cause, but an individual will wake, after potentially sleeping awkwardly, with neck pain and the inability to move their head in certain directions.
* This page does not focus on the other types of torticollis, such as congenital torticollis or torticollis caused by infection, tumour or psychiatric disease. These conditions are still produced by the spasm in the SCM but are not painful, and involve fixed deviation or tilting of the head. If you believe you or your child is suffering from this form of torticollis, you seek advice from your doctor or health professional.
What are the signs and Symptoms of Pseudo-Torticollis?
You may be experiencing Pseudo-Torticollis if you are experiencing:
- Pain on one side of your neck
- Inability to turn your head or move your neck freely
- Tight muscles of the neck (especially SCM)
- Uneven shoulder height
What can I do to help myself if I am suffering from Pseudo-Torticollis?
If you are experiencing the symptoms listed above, putting ice on the affected can be useful to provide some relief from pain and minimise inflammation in the area. Application of ice for 20 minutes of every hour for the first 24-48 hours is recommended, avoiding direct contact with the skin by placing a towel between the ice and skin. Ice application can be alternated with a heat pack, to encourage blood flow to the region and promote repair and relaxation of the muscles.
Other ways you can help yourself with Torticollis is by doing gentle neck side-bending and rotation stretches within your pain limits. This attempts to correct the spasm in the SCM and other soft tissue structures in the region. You can also talk to your pharmacist or doctor, who may be able to prescribe you something to alleviate pain, decrease inflammation and promote muscle relaxation.
For more information on Torticollis and Pseudo-Torticollis, watch the video below, or click here.
When to see a health professional for Pseudo-Torticollis?
You should seek professional help if you suspect you have Pseudo-Torticollis, especially if your pain is getting worse or not improving; you are unable to move your head or neck and it is impacting on your normal daily activities; if you have severe head or neck pain, stiffness and or fever; or if you start to experience numbness, tingling, pins and needles, or weakness in the arms.
How can a Health Professional help if you are suffering from Pseudo-Torticollis?
In trying to determine whether you are suffering from Pseudo-Torticollis, a health professional such as an Osteopath, Physiotherapist, or Chiropractor, will take an in-depth history of your pain, and assess and test your spine for any muscle tension and restrictions in its range of motion. They will then use a variety of techniques to try to decrease the pain and muscle spasm in the area, and increase the range of motion in your spine.
At the end of your appointment, your health professional will reassess your neck for any improvements or changes and will give you advice on how best to manage your pain until your next appointment. Their advice may include personalised exercises to perform and activities to avoid until you see them next.
* Note in rare cases of torticollis surgery may be required.
For more information on other conditions of the neck, click on the following conditions:
- Neck Pain
- Neck Pain due to Poor Posture
- Cervical Osteoarthritis (Neck Arthritis)
- Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
- Facet Sprains
- Cervical Radiculopathy (Pinched Nerve)