Torticollis (also known as wryneck) is a harmless condition in which your neck is crooked or twisted to one side. Torticollis can occur in adults following an injury or in newborns as congenital torticollis. If you have acute torticollis as an adult, it should go away in a week or two with regular physical therapy, stretching, and massages. When it comes to infants and babies, it should go away within 6-12 months. There are, however, things you can do to help correct your baby’s neck as soon as possible. Consult your paediatrician if you have any concerns or if you do not see improvement within a few months.
Method 1 Treating Torticollis in Adults
1. Several times a day, perform neck rolls and side-neck stretches. Try a few slow neck rolls or leaning your ear down toward your shoulder. Slow down and don’t try to stretch too hard at first—stiff muscles mean your range of motion will be limited for a while. Every 4-6 hours, perform at least 5 neck rolls in both directions and 8 ear-to-shoulder stretches.
Start with your head upright and lower your chin to your chest to perform neck rolls. Roll your head to the right gradually until your ear is directly over your shoulder. Roll to the left after returning to the centre with your chin tucked to your chest.
Start with your head upright and slowly lower your right ear down toward your shoulder to stretch the sides of your neck. Hold the stretch for 10 counts before returning to the starting position and leaning to the left.
If you have acute torticollis, stay active and move your neck as normally as possible. It will not stiffen up if you move it around.
If you have severe torticollis, consult a doctor before attempting any neck stretches.
2. Get a massage on your neck and upper back. Consult a licenced massage therapist about your neck stiffness. During the massage, try to relax and breathe through any minor discomfort. If you experience any sharp pains during the massage, notify your practitioner immediately so that they can adjust the pressure or move on to another area. Get a massage at least twice a week.
Massages can be expensive, but for treating a neck injury, it’s worth going to a professional rather than a regular day spa.
Inquire with your doctor or, if you have one, a physical therapist about a good massage therapist who specialises in neck injuries. Your physical therapist may choose to massage your neck before or after your sessions in some cases.
Massage therapy can help increase circulation to your neck muscles and lengthen tight, shortened muscles. It may not cure your torticollis on its own, but when combined with other treatment options, it can alleviate pain and help your neck return to normalcy sooner.
3. To relieve pain and stiffness, take anti-inflammatory pain relievers. Take 1 or 2 tablets or capsules of any OTC NSAID, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Wash it down with 8 fluid ounces (240 mL) of water and reassess your need for another dose 4 to 6 hours later.
Adults can take 325 mg of ibuprofen (1 or 2 tablets depending on strength) every 4 to 6 hours with no problems. Ibuprofen should not be taken in high doses for more than one week because it can increase the risk of stroke or heart attack.
Acetaminophen traces can pass into breast milk, so consult your doctor before taking it if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
If your pain is severe, consult your doctor about getting a prescription for a muscle relaxant such as diazepam, methocarbamol, or tizanidine.
4. After an injury, use a cervical collar to support your neck. If you have torticollis as a result of a car accident, strain, or other injury, consider wearing a neck brace for 1-2 weeks to help straighten it out. Follow your doctor’s advice on how long to wear it for to avoid weakening your neck muscles from too much support.
Consult your doctor about the proper size cervical collar for you, or go to a medical supply store and try some on. It should be snug enough to support your neck but not so tight that it causes discomfort.
If you have acute torticollis, the collar may only need to be worn for a few days or up to a week.
Wearing the collar for an extended period of time (2 weeks or more) without the approval of your doctor may cause other muscles in your neck to stiffen or weaken.
5. To relieve stiffness and muscle spasms, get a botox injection. If you have acute torticollis and frequently experience muscle spasms in the area, consult your doctor about receiving a botox injection to relax your muscles. Plan on only getting one shot and then checking in with your doctor 1-2 weeks later to see if it’s working.
Your primary care physician can refer you to a physical medicine and rehabilitation (PMR) specialist who will give you the injection.
Injections are most effective when combined with physical therapy and daily stretching.
Depending on the severity of your torticollis, you may require one injection every week or every other week.
6. For 10 to 15 minutes at a time, place an ice pack on your neck. Wrap a cloth around a cold compress or a bag of frozen vegetables and place it around your neck. Remove it after 10 to 15 minutes and repeat the procedure 2 to 3 hours later. You can repeat this as many times as you need to relieve pain and loosen your neck muscles.
If you apply the cold pack directly to your skin, you risk getting an ice burn.
7. For 15 to 20 minutes, place a heating pad on your neck. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position, keeping your head as straight and upright as possible. Place a heating pad or hot compress on your neck and relax for 15 to 20 minutes before removing it. Repeat every 2 to 3 hours until the pain has subsided and you can move your neck normally again.
Wrap a hot, damp towel around your neck as an alternative. For extra soreness relief, soak the towel in an equal mixture of Epsom salt and warm water.
Hot therapy is only advised if the area is not visibly swollen. If you were in an accident that caused your torticollis, wait 48-72 hours before using heat therapy.
8. Acupuncture should be done once a week to reduce inflammation. A licenced acupuncturist near you can be found by conducting a simple online search (e.g., “acupuncture San Diego”). #* To your appointment, wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothing. Expect to lay on the table for 45 minutes or so with tiny needles in your neck and back while receiving the treatment. You may experience immediate relief after the needles are inserted!
Acupuncture is not painful, but it may feel strange at first.
Eat a light snack about 2 hours before your appointment to avoid feeling hungry or dizzy when you stand up after your treatment.
Schedule some time before and after to relax instead of rushing back to work or other responsibilities.
If you take blood thinners, you should avoid getting acupuncture.
9. Cupping therapy can help relieve pain and stiffness. Schedule an appointment with a licenced cupping massage therapist in your area. Wear loose, comfortable clothing that is easy to take off and put on. The treatment is similar to getting a massage in that you will lie down on a massage table and relax!
Suction cups will be placed on your skin around your upper back and neck by the therapist. You may experience a strange pinching or squeezing sensation at first, but this will pass as you become accustomed to it. To increase blood circulation, the therapist may leave the cups in place for a few minutes or move them around.
After the session, you’ll have some round bruise-like marks on your skin, but they’ll fade in a few days. In some cases, the marks can last for a week or two.
Cupping therapy should be avoided if you have eczema or psoriasis because it can aggravate your symptoms.
Method 2 Correcting Your Baby’s Torticollis
1. Gently stretch the tight side of your baby’s neck. Begin by placing your baby on their back in their crib or on a comfortable, padded surface, with their feet pointing towards you. Place the palm of your left hand on the back of your baby’s head, with their ear touching your inner wrist, to stretch the left side of their neck. Place your right hand on your baby’s left shoulder and gently press their head forward so that their right ear moves toward their right shoulder. When you feel the first bit of resistance, come to a complete stop and hold the position for 30 seconds.
This will stretch your baby’s left side of the neck. If their head is tilted to the right, reverse your hands and lean their left ear against their left shoulder.
While you’re doing this, it’s a good idea to soothe your baby with some soothing coos so they don’t resist or become fussy.
Take it slowly and gently! If your baby becomes fussy during the stretch, stop and try again later.
Call your paediatrician if your baby shows any signs of pain with the slightest movement.
2. To increase your baby’s range of motion, perform gentle neck rotations. Place your right hand on the front of your baby’s right shoulder and lay them down flat. Turn their head to the left with your left hand. When you feel some resistance, come to a halt and hold the position for 30 seconds. Doing this stretch three to four times a day will help your baby’s tight neck muscles relax over time.
You can do the other side as well, but it’s more important to concentrate on the tight side.
If your baby’s head tilts to the left, switch hands and turn their head to the right.
Try this one when your baby is calm and relaxed, such as after a bath or a meal.
3. Feed your baby with his or her head turned away from the preferred side. Aim your nipple or the nipple of the bottle so that your baby must turn their head away from the side it normally leans toward. Don’t force them to turn too far at first; simply offer it so that they have to turn their head a little further each time. Gradual changes add up, and chances are, your baby won’t notice!
If your baby is prone to fussiness, this is a good practise because the milk or formula will keep them calm even if they feel some slight discomfort from turning their head.
4. Place your baby’s favourite toys on the opposite side of the crib. Position your baby in such a way that they must turn their head to see all of their favourite things (such as toys, pretty pictures, and you!). This is a deceptive method of getting them to stretch out the tight side of their neck on their own. For example, if their neck is tilted to the right, place items to their left so they must turn to look at them. Put them on the right if their neck is tilted to the left.
This will encourage your baby to increase their range of motion, gradually stretching the stiff muscles.
You can do this while your baby is lying on their stomach, in a carrier, or in a high chair.
5. Carry your baby on their side to stretch their neck gently. Position your baby on their side, with their back against your torso. Check that the tightest part of their neck is closest to the ground (i.e., if their head tilts to the left, hold them with their head on your left side). To support your baby’s weight, run your right arm between their legs and grasp their lower arm or torso. To encourage a gentle stretch, place your left forearm between your baby’s ear and left shoulder.
If your baby’s head is crooked to the right, change their position so that their head is on your right side.
6. If your child’s torticollis isn’t improving, take them to the doctor. Discuss the stretches you’ve been doing and any other efforts you’ve made to help correct your baby’s neck positioning with your paediatrician. Your doctor may provide you with additional advice and follow up with you in a few weeks, or they may refer you to an infant physical therapist.
Torticollis can take 6-12 months to resolve in most cases, so be patient and continue to do gentle stretches.
If the stretches aren’t working and your baby is at least 3 to 4 months old, your doctor may recommend frequency-specific microcurrent therapy to relax the tight muscles. It’s a quick, non-invasive procedure that only takes a few minutes per session. It may take one to three treatments to see a long-term difference.
If the torticollis does not resolve within 6-12 months, consult your paediatrician about getting x-rays or using a cervical collar. To correct the problem, your child may need to wear the collar for at least two months.
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