What is Torticollis, and What are its Causes


Torticollis is a relatively frequent ailment in the population. It can be congenital in origin, although it usually occurs from trauma. How to recognize it? Discover its characteristics.

Have you ever wondered what torticollis is? This condition is a movement disorder characterized by sustained or intermittent muscle contractions, resulting from repetitive movements or postures.

It is a common ailment located in the neck and shoulders muscles, an area where it causes movement difficulties and twisting of the head. This time we will see its leading causes and what to do about it.

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Causes of Torticollis

Firstly, it has to clarify that torticollis is a symptom and not a disease. Therefore, it observed in the context of various situations. Thus, recognizing its origin becomes a vital part of the choice of treatment.

According to its triggering mechanism, it classified as follows:


That is, secondary to a trauma or an accident. It accompanied by subluxation or bone fracture.


It caused by some inflammation, infection, or mass in the cervical region.

It can also classified according to the posture the head takes:

  • Anterocolis (forward).
  • Laterocolis (to the side).
  • Retrocolis (backward).

Generally speaking, it believed to be an emotional disorder that arises from the abnormal cellular function of muscle fibers. Finally, according to the time of presentation, the following forms of torticollis are discussed:

  • Congenital: when it is present from birth.
  • It is acquired: if evidenced at any other time in life.


Types of Torticollis and their Characteristics

We explained the potential causes of torticollis and its classification; now, we will delve into this ailment’s primary forms: congenital and acquired. What are their characteristics? How to act?

Congenital Torticollis

Congenital muscular torticollis is a postural deformity evident at birth or shortly after birth. Typically, it characterized by a lateral tilt of the head and a turning of the head to the opposite side due to the unilateral shortening of the sternocleidomastoid muscle (by contraction).

It observed with some regularity. In any case, the idea is to make a referral to neurology and physiotherapy to achieve restitution of movements and improve evolution. It has a good prognosis, especially when early treatment started. It can be secondary to different causes.

Acquired Torticollis

Acquired torticollis is one that can develop at any age as a result of different situations that cause injury or muscle inflammation. Among them, we can mention the following:

  • Idiopathic, or of unknown cause.
  • Bad sleeping position.
  • Swollen lymph nodes.
  • Ear infection.
  • Cold.
  • Head and neck injury, causing swelling.
  • Primary spasm of the sternocleidomastoid muscle.
  • C1-C2 rotary subluxation (atlantoaxial).
  • Abscesses
  • Tumors of the central nervous system.
  • Viral diseases.
  • Spasmodic torticollis.
  • Medicines.

How is the Diagnosis Made?

There are no specific studies to diagnose torticollis; generally, it determined through clinical evaluation. Similarly, a cervical region X-ray may be requested to perform diagnostic guidance and rule out some causes.
Other imaging studies or EMG (electromyogram) may be requested depending on the doctor suspects’ origin. Although laboratory tests are not diagnostic, they can be helpful if an infection is suspected.

In the physical examination, the head and neck position will observed, and associated pain will evaluated. The neck position may elevate. It is also essential to assess the evolution and history of the patient.


How to Act Before the Torticollis?

The treatment of torticollis will depend, to a large extent, on the age of the patient, how it occurred, and also the presence of pain. In many cases, the problem will be temporary and can last for a few days. However, it does not usually cause significant complications.

Cases that occur in newborns or young babies should operate on in a specialized consultation. It is necessary to get a timely diagnosis to begin treatment as soon as possible.

However, if the pain is associated with trauma, an emergency consultation is recommended to assess the neck’s need. This also does it likely to discover the presence of associated lesions and the patency of the airway. In rare cases, surgical intervention required.

The treatment options include the following:

  • Analgesics.
  • Benzodiazepines.
  • Anticholinergics.
  • Heat application.
  • Massages.
  • Stretching exercises.

In cases where it is secondary to medications, they will be suspended, under professional supervision. On the other hand, if there are bacterial infections, appropriate antibiotics should be given.

There is a Good Prognosis

The majority of cases of torticollis, including congenital, spontaneously resolved. Reversible causes must identified to provide adequate and timely treatment. In very few cases, this symptom alerts other health complications.

Even so, a visit to the specialist always recommended receiving the relevant tests. Although it not considered severe, in some people, it tends to recur sporadically.

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