Torticollis - A Real Pain In The Neck

Torticollis is the medical term used to describe a strain in the neck. This usually occurs when the neck is twisted sharply to one side, or held in an awkward position for any length of time. Typically, torticollis is 'acute', meaning the pain has occurred due instantaneously rather than developing over a longer period of time. 

What Are The Symptoms?

As torticollis is an acute injury, it is common for people to go to sleep pain-free and wake up the next morning with a stiff and/or painful neck. This is the classic onset of acute torticollis, as the body is responding to being held in an unnatural position. 

The pain associated with torticollis is usually felt predominately on one side of the neck. This is nearly always the side that has been strained during sleep. The muscles around this region may feel stiff and difficult to move. Any attempt to straighten the neck may induce significant pain around this area. This pain is typically described as being a short, sharp pain along the muscles as opposed to a dull, aching pain usually associated with chronic conditions. 

In some cases, the pain may spread across the back of the head or into the shoulder. The  muscles on the damaged side may be tender, sore to touch and even possibly inflamed. 


The underlying cause of torticollis is a twisting of the muscles that have caused excessive strain, resulting in the above symptoms. The muscles around the neck are not made to accommodate excessive rotation, so any movement outside of their 'comfort zone' will cause them to become sore. 

There is no one factor that results in torticollis. Rather, there are a few things that may result in the condition: 

  • Sleeping in an unnatural position, such as lying on your stomach with your neck rotated to one side. 
  • Sleeping without proper neck support. 
  • Maintaining poor posture while sitting or working at the computer. 
  • Carrying heavy loads (such as a gym bag) around the neck. 
  • Sleeping in conditions that expose your neck muscles to cold conditions (e.g. with a window open). 


If you visit your doctor, you will likely be prescribed medication that helps to suppress the pain and allow you to go about your day without discomfort. However, this doesn't treat any damage that has been done to the neck ligaments and will not help you avoid the condition in the future. 

Chiropractic treatment, on the other hand, can be used to restore balance to the neck and strengthen the muscles to avoid any further damage. Chiropractors achieve this by recognizing any imbalances in the neck area and restoring function to the surrounding vertebrae through neck adjustments. Qualified practitioners will also be able to instruct you on how to maintain proper posture throughout the day in order to avoid neck pain occurring during everyday life.