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What Is Torticollis?

Torticollis (wry neck) is a disorder in which your head or neck are in an abnormal position. Neck muscles can force your head to tilt forward or backward. In severe cases, the entire head turns to one side.

The exact cause of torticollis isn’t always clear. Sometimes it’s congenital (present at birth). Causes include inherited changes or an upper spine or muscle nervous system disorder.

Congenital torticollis causes may include:

  • Infant’s head wrongly positioned during development
  • Muscle or blood supply damage to baby’s neck


Torticollis is easier to treat in infants and children – especially when treatment starts early. If torticollis becomes chronic, numbness and tingling can develop from neck-nerve pressure.

Childhood Complications

  • Flat head syndrome
  • Facial deformity

Adult Complications

  • Muscle swelling
  • Nervous system symptoms from nerve pressure


Torticollis symptoms occurring after an injury or with illness may be serious. Seek medical help immediately.

Torticollis symptoms include:

  • Restricted head movement
  • Headache
  • Head tremor
  • Neck pain, muscle swelling or stiff muscles
  • One shoulder higher than the other
  • Shortened or larger neck muscles

Treatment Options

Therapies for infants and children involve stretching shortened neck muscles – ideally within three months of birth. Passive stretching and positioning involve holding the baby’s body in a certain position.

If physical therapies don’t succeed, doctors may discuss surgery to correct neck muscles. This procedure is best done during preschool years.

In adults, if torticollis was caused by damage to the nervous system, spine or muscles, doctors will evaluate and treat the cause.

Therapies may include:

  • Neck heat and traction
  • Massage
  • Stretching exercises and neck braces
  • Medications such as muscle relaxants to reduce neck muscle contractions
  • Botulinum injections
  • Trigger-point injections to relieve pain at a specific point
  • Spinal surgery, if torticollis is due to dislocated vertebrae
  • Surgical procedures that use brain stimulation or treat neck muscle nerves

Ready for an Appointment?

If you're experiencing signs or symptoms of torticollis, schedule an appointment or call 800-TEMPLE-MED (800-836-7536) today.

Learn more about our doctors and care team who diagnose and treat torticollis.