While it's normal to tweak your neck by sleeping in a poor position, frequent occurrences could be indicative of a condition called torticollis. Torticollis is derived from Latin and means "twisted neck." Torticollis causes stiff, contracted muscles in your neck and shoulders. It causes your head to tilt or twist to one side, limiting your range of motion and sometimes causing headaches or neck pain. In worst-case scenarios, you may develop a dystonia or a neurological movement disorder from these repetitive muscle contractions.
What Causes Torticollis?
Torticollis can run in families; some babies with congenital torticollis may have vertebrae that have fused together, making the bones in the neck form incorrectly. However, if you never had problems as a child, it is likely a temporary condition and can often be caused by
- Inflamed lymph nodes in the neck (from ear infections, colds, etc.)
- Injuries to your head and neck, like whiplash from a car accident
- Scarring on your head or neck that wasn't properly rehabbed.
- Compressed nerves or sore muscles from sleeping on a bad pillow or mattress
How Can You Treat Torticollis?
Thankfully torticollis can be treated with many non-invasive therapies before surgery became an option. For instance, if your torticollis is due to previous injuries or scarring, you can work with a physical therapist to stretch and strengthen tight muscles.
A chiropractor from a clinic like Fulk Chiropractic can be a big help when treating torticollis—especially if you slept with your neck in an awkward position.
Your body's natural response is to tense up (known as muscle guarding) when it is trying to splint muscles and skeletal structures from further injury or from awkward positioning. Ironically, this muscle guarding can pinch nerves and cause spasms. In order to get your muscles to relax, and to fix the symmetry of your head and neck, your chiropractor can make small adjustments to relieve nerve pressure. Once nerve pressure is released, your muscles will be less guarded, making it easier for the torticollis to resolve naturally.
Your chiropractor can set you up with better pillows or recommend some good brands. It's important that you avoid pillows that are too high or too stiff, as this can over-flex your neck and throw the rest of your spine out of alignment.
Lastly, once your torticollis has been resolved, your head and neck muscles return to their proper positions. In order to maintain flexibility, ask your chiropractor about clinical massage. Massage is very beneficial for the sternocleidomastoid muscle—the large, superficial muscle in your neck that rotates the head and flexes the head.
Don't let your torticollis get to the point where you need to be put under anesthesia to undergo muscle release. Contact a chiropractor or physical therapist today.