What is Torticollis?
Torticollis is a twisted neck condition that can be successfully treated with the help of a practitioner of chiropractic care. Torticollis, sometimes called “twisted neck”, “wry neck”, or “loxia” can be caused by many things, including muscular fibrosis, brain injury, or spine abnormalities. In this condition, the head and neck can be rotated or tilted in a few different ways. It is called retrocollis when the neck and head are hyperextended backwards, while it is known as anterocollis when the neck is positioned in a forward flexion. Rotational torticollis refers to the head rotating on the longitudinal axis, while laterocollis is when the head is tilted towards the shoulder.
Congenital torticollis is thought to happen due to the baby’s position in utero, or it may be from birth trauma. Because of the condition, the “sternocleidomastoid muscle” of the neck is contracted too much. That limits its range of motion, leading to a lateral head tilt in the infant. The sternocleidomastoid muscle, which spans the area between the collar bone to behind the ear, is responsible for turning and tilting the head and is the muscle which is most often involved in torticollis. Some infants can acquire this condition based on their positioning. They can have flat heads from being constantly positioned on their backs. This kind of wry neck should be preventable, almost always, as long as the parent regularly repositions the baby every 2-3 waking hours, before the age of 18 months. If this is not done, there can be “facial asymmetry”. Sometimes this condition can be spasmodic or intermittent.
Other types of acquired torticollis can happen from a stiff neck, tumors, infections, and a side effect of certain medications.1
Symptoms and Traditional Treatments
The onset of torticollis can be acquired, even later in life, idiopathic (unknown), or inherited. Congenital torticollis is from birth, but it can still develop later in childhood or adulthood as well. Symptoms of this condition include neck pain, the unnatural position of a higher shoulder on one side, stiff neck, muscle swelling, head tremor, headache, and limitations set on bodily range of motion. In severe cases, the head is pulled completely to one side. Doctors may perform CT, EMG, or MRI scans. For infants, it is important to help the infant to properly stretch the neck muscle. As stated before, starting early to reposition the baby is the most successful option.
For twisted neck that results from an injury to the muscles, spine, or nervous system, stretching is also helpful. Doctors may use medications and injections, such as baclofen or botulinum toxin. Heat, cervical traction, and massage can provide relief from the painful side effects and stress that come with this condition. In some cases, surgery may be indicated. Torticollis is much easier to treat in children when it has been caught earlier enough. Left untreated, torticollis can lead to muscle swelling and nervous system symptoms.2
Chiropractic for Torticollis
Birth trauma is likely the cause of twisted neck in infants, leading to a misalignment of the neck bones or neck muscle injury. This is especially likely to happen when vacuum extraction or forceps are used in the delivery of the baby. And it can also be a result of a breech delivery or other abnormal positioning during the baby’s development prior to birth. Chiropractors can safely treat infants. A gentler touch or special instruments are used by chiropractors who are adjusting babies, as chiropractors are able to treat other conditions in infants beyond torticollis. They can also help with diagnosing the presence of wry neck. It is important to treat this condition as early as possible, no matter what age the patient is, to prevent later complications and pain.3
Massage for Torticollis
Chiropractors are not the only practitioners of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) who could treat torticollis. A massage therapist might have a few methods of treatment, including the application of heat to the affected area, a gentler massage, traction, and the technique of passive stretching in order to relax the irritated or spasming tissue in the neck. Treatment in both chiropractic and massage would focus on stretching and mobilizing the injured sternocleidomastoid muscle.
The massage therapist would focus on slowly stretching and kneading the tissue in the neck, allowing it to relax so that the injured area could better accept stretches and range of motion. Following massage, regularly switching between application of hot and cold packs to the neck as well as gentle neck exercises might be recommended. Patients might choose to consult with a medical professional first before seeking treatment from a massage therapist, and all treatment should be taken at a pace that the patient can handle. If the patient tries to push their injured physical condition too far too quickly they would leave themselves in a position of being more likely to develop further complications.4