What is Acute Torticollis?

Torticollis comes from two Latin words: torti (twisted) and collis (neck). Acute torticollis is a condition sometimes called "wry neck" or a "cricked neck". Some generically describe it as a very painful muscle spasm in the neck, similar to having a "Charlie Horse" in your leg. It is nothing of the sort! This condition, as I will explain later, involves the joint or joints in the neck and the pain can be absolutely severe. Matter of fact, I will choose experiencing the pain of a Charlie Horse over the pain of an Acute Torticollis any day of the week!

Acute torticollis is also often described as a temporary condition that normally takes approximately two weeks to resolve. This is true if you can put up with the pain, but in some people the problem does not resolve and becomes a contributor to chronic pain patterns.

My first experience with torticollis was developing it overnight and awakening with a stiff and painful neck. Growing up in Hawaii I would always sleep under a window unit air conditioner. I am sure this was a contributor and I awoke to the pain and disability that an acute torticollis presents.

Pain is a Body's Way of Communicating

When you body is sending pain signals to the brain, become a more active caregiver of your body's needs. Pain is merely a communication tool the body uses to let you know something needs your attention.

Acute Torticollis Symptoms

  • Limited range of motion of head or neck
  • Muscle spasms
  • Swelling of neck muscles
  • Neck and shoulder pain
  • Neck and spine contortion (neck is twisted to right or left side of body)

Pain Relief Treatments for Acute Torticollis

  • Analgesics
  • Ice packs (Active Soft Tissue Inflammatory Process)
  • Rubs and ointments such as Icy Hot, BioFreeze, and Blue-Emu Cream
  • Massage with essential oils
  • Sleep / Relax
  • Supportive cervical collar

Scientific literature cites some of the causes of Acute Torticollis to include: Viral infection, anxiety, sleeping in an awkward position, injury to neck or shoulder with other causes being of unknown etiology.

Most Effective Form of Treatment:

  • Chiropractic neck and spinal adjustment

Why a chiropractic adjustment? Come now doctor, to a hammer everything looks like a nail! What is the scientific explanation that a chiropractic adjustment is any more effective than the aforementioned other remedies of treatment? Well, having been an assistant professor of years in Orthopedics and Rehabilitation I will attempt to keep my explanation short. I am not promising anything, but here it goes.

There are 360 joints in the human body and many of those joints are diarthrodial (synovial freely moving) joints. Each diarthrodial joint is surrounded by a joint capsule which attaches to both ends of bones that join together forming a joint. This capsule could be described as being much akin to that of a nylon stocking stretched over a leg. In the neck there are diarthrodial joints called facet joints and each joint is surrounded by a capsule. These capsules are highly innervated by nociceptive pain nerve fibers. During sleep (most common) or during acute head and neck movements the capsule or capsules are compromised by being compressed between harder tissue structures. This compressive force causes the nociceptive nerve fibers to depolarize and send millions of pain signals to the spinal cord. Innately, the spinal cord interprets this information as major trauma and thus sends efferent signals via motor nerves to the surrounding muscles to spasm and contract. This afferent-efferent loop is a mechanism of joint protection. This causes the "Crick."

It is difficult to predict but sometimes the problem will resolve on its own. If there is any pain, besides sciatic or true radicular type pain, that could be described as a "pinched nerve," it is an Acute Torticollis. The neck is also very stiff and the pain is almost always more severe when rotating the head and neck to one side rather than the other. For example, if the "Crick" is on the left it will be severely painful when rotating the head and neck to the left and motion to that side being quite limited.

So why is the Chiropractic adjustment most effective?

During the dynamics of an adjustment the chiropractor rotates the head and neck away from the side of the pain and moves the head and neck to the end range of motion. He or she then, very briskly, brings the neck into what is called the "paraphysiological joint space" or paraphysiological range of motion." It is this classification of range of motion that causes a "gapping" of the two articular surfaces that were compressing the folded capsule, the term for this folded capsule is "Synovial Fold." The adjustment causes a great enough gap in the joint unfolding the capsule and thus tractioning the soft tissue capsule away from the two harder surfaces that were causing the "pinch." Great relief is usually experienced after the adjustment, but I have found that a person's speed of recovery is directly correlated to the length of time the person has had the condition. Meaning, the longer the pain the longer the recovery. Why? Inflammatory exudative processes and injury/damage to the compromised soft tissue structures. Should you experience an Acute Torticollis, and we certainly hope you won't, give us a call and we will work you in as soon as possible. We understand the magnitude of pain that you are in and rest assured we frequently see this condition and effectively treat it.

Disclaimer: The information found on this webpage is not a substitute for medical advice from a licensed physician or legal advice from a licensed attorney. Any concerns or questions related to your injuries or pain patterns whether acute or chronic, and their legal impact and consequences, if any, need to be conducted with appropriate legal counsel. Any concerns or questions related to your injuries and/or pain patterns whether they are deemed acute or chronic, and their short term or long term physical impact and consequences, need to be conducted with an appropriate licensed physician. The information found on this page is for informational purposes only and is not meant to diagnose, treat and/or educate for purposes of treatment and/or educate for the purposes in the self treatment of your injury or injuries or pain patterns.