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Torticollis (Wry Neck)

Torticollis occurs when muscles on one side of the neck contract (tighten). This causes the neck to twist or tilt to the side. The muscles may also be quite sore. It affects mainly children and young adults, often appearing overnight. It can also affect infants who develop tight neck muscles on one side.

What Causes Torticollis?

Causes of torticollis include:

  • Damage to the neck muscles from an accident or other trauma

  • Side effect of certain medications or drugs

  • Infection of the airways, such as a sore throat

When to Go to the Emergency Room (ER)

All neck problems should be checked by a healthcare provider within 24 hours. Seek emergency care if you can't reach your doctor or these symptoms are present:

  • Trouble breathing or swallowing

  • Numbness or weakness in the arms and legs

  • Trouble walking or speaking

What to Expect in the ER

The neck will be examined, and questions about any current or former medical problems will be asked. X-rays of the neck may be taken to check for broken bones.

Treatment

The goal in treating torticollis is to relax the neck muscles. The best approach will depend on the cause of the problem. In most cases, one or more of the following may be given:

  • Medications to help relax the muscles and reduce swelling

  • Hot and cold compresses to help ease muscle tightness

  • Botulinum toxin (Botox) injections to prevent further muscle spasms

  • A soft neck collar to ease discomfort and help healing

  • Physical therapy to help stretch and relax the muscles

Follow-up

Depending upon the cause, torticollis often goes away on its own. Follow up with your healthcare provider as instructed. If symptoms become worse, call your doctor or return to the ER.

 

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