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  • Writer's pictureDr Claire Chittleborough

What is torticollis (wry neck)?

Have you ever twisted your head sharply and felt the searing pain of your neck freezing in an unnatural position? Then you’ve got an idea of what we’re talking about here. Torticollis, also known as wry neck, is an extreme twisted neck which won’t go away as easily as the more common jarring pain we’ve all experienced. Torticollis usually causes the top of the head to tilt to one side and the chin to tilt to the other side.

Torticollis in babies

Torticollis can be present at birth, when a baby’s neck muscles haven’t developed as well as they should. Infants with torticollis are likely to cry frequently for no obvious reason, and the tilting of their neck may cause their head to flatten on one side as they are not changing its position often enough when lying down.

Don’t worry though, the problem can be corrected, and the head’s shape will return to normal!

A chiropractor can help the baby to stretch the muscles in their neck, enabling them to develop the full range of movement. The sooner after birth that treatment begins, the quicker the child’s recovery will be.

Causes of torticollis in adults

You don’t have to be born with wry neck. It can also be caused by injury or lifestyle issues. Some of the most common causes of torticollis are:

Sleeping in an unusual position without adequate neck support

Poor posture, particularly when sitting in front of a computer all day

Carrying heavy loads

Sports injuries to the muscles or ligaments in the neck

In less common cases, temporary torticollis can be caused by a cold or ear infection.

Often torticollis comes on with no warning - you go to bed one day feeling fine and wake up the next morning with a wry neck. Which can be a painful and worrying shock. But the good news is that it is very treatable!

Symptoms of torticollis

So how do you know if you have torticollis? If you have severe neck pain and you’re wondering if it could be a wry neck, look out for the following:

Not being able to move your head normally

Having one shoulder higher than the other

Your head tilting to one side

Headaches and/or pain in your shoulder

Pain on just one side of your neck

Treatment for torticollis

How can you get rid of torticollis? Sometimes it can go away on its own after a day or two, but then there is a chance of it coming back. It’s best to get the issue treated professionally to reduce your likelihood of having to go through all this again. Not to mention getting you sorted more quickly so you don’t have to put up with the pain and restricted movement for a second longer than necessary.

A chiropractor can “unlock” the muscles and get your neck moving comfortably again. They will likely show you some stretching exercises that you can do over the following days to help resolve the problem. They may also make recommendations for how you can avoid the issue recurring. Changes to your sleeping or working environment, or certain preventative tools, might save you further pain in the future.

While you wait for your chiropractic appointment, there are a few things that you can do at home to take the edge off:

Apply an ice pack - you can buy these over the counter from a chemist.

Take painkillers - paracetamol will work for most people, but some find anti-inflammatories, like ibuprofen, are more effective (always speak to your GP before taking any medications).

Move your neck - you might be tempted to keep as still as possible when movement is painful, but keeping your neck mobile, with very gentle movements, will help to release the muscles and stop it from getting any worse.

If you’re experiencing neck pain, don’t suffer in silence. Give us a call on 0413 774 399 or email us at and we’ll help you get the relief you need.

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