Torticollis – symptoms, causes, types and other risk factors

Torticollis Symptoms and Causes

Torticollis is also known as wry neck. This is a painful twisted and tilted neck. The top of our head tilts to one side while the chin tilts to the other side. The torticollis can be acquired or congenital (present at birth) [1]. Also this condition can be the result of damage to the neck muscles or blood supply. There are some cases when torticollis goes away without treatment. This means that there is a chance of relapse. The chronic wry neck can cause debilitating pain and difficulties in performing everyday tasks. There are therapies and medications which can help you to get a relief from the pain. There are some cases when surgery can correct the torticollis. If the treatment is started early, then it is most successful and this is especially true for children.

Torticollis symptoms

The symptoms of torticollis can begin slowly. But also they can worsen as the time passes. Here are the most common symptoms of torticollis:

  • A tilting of your chin to one side
  • Swollen neck muscles
  • Having one shoulder higher than other
  • A headache
  • Neck pain or stiffness
  • An inability to move your head normally

Those children who have congenital wry neck, can have faces which appear as unbalanced and flattened. Also they can have difficulties with vision and hearing or they can have motor skills delays. [2]

Torticollis Symptoms and Causes

Torticollis causes

The torticollis can be inherited. If your baby’s head is the wrong position, then this will happen. Also this can be caused by damage to blood supply or muscles to the neck. Every single person can develop a wreck neck after a nervous system or muscle injury. But in the most cases, the cause for torticollis is not known and this case is referred as idiopathic torticollis. Also infection of the head or neck can lead to torticollis. These infections can cause an inflammatory torticollis secondary to the inflamed lymph nodes and glands in the neck. Those muscles which are overlying these lymph nodes can contract. The torticollis can be associated with abscesses of the upper airway and throat and in these cases, the torticollis can be life – threatening. Also there are other infections of the scalp, teeth, jaw, mastoids, ears and sinuses which can lead to torticollis. There are rare cases when vascular abnormalities, arthritis of the cervical spine, scar tissue and tumors can lead to torticollis. There are drugs of abuse, such as cocaine, amphetamines and ketamine, as well as commonly prescribed drugs such as chlorpromazine (Thorazine), haloperidol (Haldol) and prochlorperazine (Compazine) which can lead to acute dystonia (this is a lack of normal muscle control). [3]

Types of torticollis: Here are some types of torticollis:

  1. Temporary torticollis: This is a type of torticollis which usually disappears after 1 or 2 days. It can be due to:
  • An injury to your head and neck that causes swelling
  • A cold
  • An ear infection
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  1. Fixed torticollis: This type of torticollis is also called permanent torticollis or acute torticollis. This is usually a problem with the bone or muscular structure.
  2. Muscular torticollis: This type of torticollis is the most common type of fixed torticollis. It is resulting from tight muscles or scarring on one side of the neck.
  3. Klippel – Feil syndrome: It is a rare congenital form of torticollis. It is happening when the bones in the baby’s neck form incorrectly which is notably due to 2 neck vertebrae being fused together. Those children who are born with this condition can have difficulties with vision and hearing. [4]
  4. Cervical dystonia: It is a rare disorder and sometimes it is referred to as spasmodic torticollis. This condition causes the neck muscles to contract in spasms. When you have cervical dystonia, then your head twist or turn painfully to one side. Also it can tilt forward or backward. There are some cases when cervical dystonia goes away without treatment but there is a risk of recurrence. The cervical dystonia can happen to any single person. But it is most commonly diagnosed in people who are between ages 40 – 60. Also it is affecting more women than men. [5]


[1] Lee KS, Chung EJ, Lee BH. A study on asymmetry in infants with congenital muscular torticollis according to head rotation. Journal of Physical Therapy Science. 2017;29(1):48–52.

[2] Korngold HW. Acute torticollis in pediatric practice. The American Journal of Diseases of Children. 1959;98(6):756-64.

[3] Bey T, Patel A. Phencyclidine intoxication and adverse effects: A Clinical and pharmacological review of an illicit drug. The California Journal of Emergency Medicine. 2007;8(1):9-14.

[4] Vaidyanathan S, Hughes PL, Soni BM, et al. Klippel-Feil syndrome – the risk of cervical spinal cord injury: A case report. BMC Family Practice. 2002;3.

[5] Comella C, Bhatia K. An international survey of patients with cervical dystonia. Journal of Neurology. 2015;262(4):837–48.


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