Torticollis: causes, types, symptoms, remedies and what to do

Sleeping badly or making a sudden effort – it doesn’t take much for the stiff neck to appear and cause discomfort to the routine.

The condition usually has no aggravating factors, although it can affect the routine and activities for a few days.

Therefore, stretching and care at bedtime can be essential to prevent an episode of pain.


What is Torticollis?

The stiff neck is an involuntary tension of the neck muscles caused by poor posture while sleeping or use of the computer, causing pain in the side of the neck and difficulty moving his head.

It is normal that, in people with torticollis, the head is projected to one side and the chin to the other. Anxiety and stress can also cause tension in the muscles and lead to a stiff neck

Torticollis can occur at any age, but it is more common in middle-aged people and women.

Types of torticollis

There are several types of torticollis, some of them are:

Congenital torticollis

It is caused by the shortening of the sternocleidomastoid muscle, which is basically the muscle responsible for tilting and routing the head and is located on the side of the neck. This type of torticollis causes the side to tilt to one side and rotation in the opposite direction. It is usually more common in newborns and the correction can be done with physiotherapy and surgery.

Dermatogenic torticollis

It is the limitation of movements of the neck produced by an extensive lesion of the skin of the region. It happens mainly in retractions of healing of burns.

Spasmodic torticollis

Also known as spastic torticollis or intermittent torticollis, it is the most common type and it is the neck stiffness due to tension in the cervical muscles, which can be caused by emotional tension, physical overload, sudden displacement trauma and staying in the same position for periods prolonged.

Vestibular torticollis

It is the rotation of the head as compensation for body imbalance due to labyrinth dysfunction, an organ of balance located in the inner ear.

Ocular torticollis

It arises due to paralysis of extra-ocular muscles, such as the oblique one, often associated with head rotation and inclination.

Rheumatic torticollis

It is also known by the name of symptomatic torticollis, it is caused by rheumatological diseases that end up affecting the neck muscle.

Spurious Torticollis

Caused by fractures or degenerations in the cervical vertebrae.

What are the causes of neck pain?

The most common cause of torticollis is muscle tension that can occur in several ways, such as when you have problems with poor posture or sit too much without changing your position. It also occurs when you exercise, sleep in a bad position, or force your neck too hard on a task.

Another very common cause is problems related to the cervical spine. Herniated disc , scoliosis and lordosis can reflect on the neck and other parts of the body. They are usually accompanied by a tingling sensation.

Some infections, such as meningitis and sinusitis , can also be the cause of the pain, because due to the effort that your body makes to get rid of the infection, it can end up tensioning your muscles.

Tumors, abscesses and cancer can also put pressure on the neck muscles, causing stiff neck pain, but this is more rare.

Some diseases such as arthritis , osteoporosis and fibromyalgia can be the cause of a stiff neck, as they cause a weakening of the bones and muscles, which support the neck.

Finally, if stiff neck is accompanied by shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, pain in your arms, jaw and throat, you may be about to have a heart attack. In this case, call Samu immediately (192).

Is stiff neck a bad way in the neck?

Torticollis can be due to a bad neck condition. Spending the night in an inappropriate position, a very high pillow or even a stoop to gather something from the floor can be the cause of the pain. This is because these situations generate a muscular contracture that injures the region.

Groups of risk

It is important to remember that torticollis can affect anyone, but there are some groups of people who are more likely to develop it. They are:


Although the disease can occur in people of any age, it usually tends to appear in people who are 30 or older.


Women are more likely to develop torticollis than men.

Family history

If a family member close to you suffers from torticollis on a regular basis, it is possible that you will also develop the disease.

Presence of diseases in the cervical spine

Some people who have diseases like herniated discs and cervical stenosis may end up suffering more from stiff neck.

Use of drugs that cause muscle spasm

Drugs like cocaine, for example, can have several effects, one of which is muscle spasms , which ends up tensioning the neck area and causing pain.

Previous trauma in the region

People who have previously suffered some type of trauma in the neck region, or who often suffer from pain, may end up developing episodes of torticollis more often.

Symptoms of Torticollis

The main symptom of torticollis is pain in the neck along with limited movement of the head. However, some other symptoms may appear, such as:

  • Headache;
  • Neck tremor;
  • Swelling of the neck muscles;
  • Higher shoulder on one side of the body;
  • Pain sensitive to touch.

Diagnosis: how to confirm the cause of neck pain?

The first step of diagnosis is to tell the doctor that you can be a general practitioner, orthopedist, rheumatologist or neurologist about all the circumstances that may have led to pain, such as: trauma, physical exercise and poor posture.

Soon after that, he will be able to request small physical exams and prescribe the correct method for the case of torticollis, along with medicines that the patient will be able to use.

If there is any evidence of trauma, the doctor may take an X-ray of the region to eliminate possible occurrences of fractures and dislocations of the bones of the spine located in the neck.

Although it is rare, the doctor may order a CT scan, but this will only be performed if there are signs of minor changes or pre-existing conditions, such as, for example, degenerative arthritis of the spine or neck.

Treatment: what to do for stiff neck?

In most cases, torticollis is an acute pain that goes away without treatment in a few days. Chronic torticollis are rare.

However, even in the face of this situation, the following tips can help to relieve pain or even get rid of it.


Physical therapy can be a viable, non-invasive and low-cost option. Outpatient child physiotherapy, along with home therapy, can be extremely effective in reversing the effects of congenital stiff neck.

Your physical therapist can give you these recommendations:

  • Stretch the muscle in a prone position (body lying down, face forward), both actively and passively.
  • Stretch the muscle in a lateral position, supported by a pillow. The affected side must be against the pillow to deviate the neck towards the unaffected side.
  • Use the cervical collar to control the child’s posture in baby strollers, car seats and swings.

Microcurrent therapy

This type of therapy is especially for congenital torticollis and, for this to be effective, it is necessary for children to be at least three months old and have a torticollis involving the entire sternocleidomastoid muscle with a palpable mass and thickness greater than 10mm.

Microcurrent therapy works by sending electrical signals per minute to the neck to restore normal cell frequencies and thereby improve blood flow, as well as reducing muscle spasms and decreasing pain along with inflammation.

Bet on rest and neck support

One way to relieve pain is to relax your muscles, which can occur through soft cervical collars available from orthopedic stores.

If you don’t want to buy the cervical collar, you can improvise your own at home by placing a towel wrapped around your shirt collar or along the neck, joining the ends together to keep it tight around your neck.

It is necessary for you to rest your neck until the pain subsides, so avoid any activity that could further tighten your neck muscles.

Ideal temperature for every situation

If your neck pain was caused by an injury, applying ice covered with a towel can help reduce inflammation and facilitate healing.

If the pain was caused by muscle contraction, it is necessary to warm up the region to accelerate the body’s healing process.

Massage and stretching

Light massages can help to relax the muscles that are contracted and decrease the stiffness, however this must be done with great care, because being “kneading” the neck region may not help at all and end up worsening the pain. Ideally, you should focus on relaxing your muscles.


If none of the above treatments work, the doctor may recommend surgery for the stiff neck.

The surgery is minimally invasive and performed through laparoscopy. After surgery, it will be necessary to use a cervical collar and intense physiotherapy sessions around 3 to 4 months.

Medicines: remedy for neck pain

Often the pain of stiff neck can be uncomfortable and does not go away quickly, so some people prefer to resort to the use of medicines that can relieve the pain quickly. Some of them are:

  • Betatrint ;
  • Cataflam;
  • Ketofenid (solution);
  • Cyclobenzaprine ;
  • Coltrax;
  • Diprospan ;
  • Duoflam ;
  • Fenaflan ;
  • Flanax;
  • Miosan ;
  • Mirtax ;
  • Muscular ;
  • Torsilax .


NEVER self-medicate or stop using a medication without first consulting a doctor. Only he will be able to tell which medication, dosage and duration of treatment is the most suitable for his specific case. The information contained on this site is only intended to inform, not in any way intended to replace the guidance of a specialist or serve as a recommendation for any type of treatment. Always follow the instructions on the package insert and, if symptoms persist, seek medical or pharmaceutical advice.

Treatment and home remedy: what is good for stiff neck?

Some natural medicines that contain ingredients such as mint, thyme, marigold or yarrow can help you relax your muscles. Ointments with arnica can also be beneficial.

To prepare massage oils, heat in a spoon a few drops of oils that are used in aromatherapy, such as tahiti or Sicilian lemon oil, together with an oil such as olive, avocado or grape seeds . When the oil is ready, apply to the rigid muscles.

Living together

When torticollis occurs, it is recommended to rest and immobilize the site, in addition to hot compresses, for 2 or 3 days. However, there are some exercises and massages that can be done and help to endure the pain.

  • Put both hands together by interlocking your fingers behind your head and press your head down until you feel a slight pain. Stay in this position for about 10 seconds and relax.
  • With your body still, slowly rotate your neck as far as you can to the right and to the left. Do this same movement three times on each side.
  • With one hand, pull the head until the ear subtly touches the shoulder. Do the same procedure with the other hand and the other side. Stay in this position for about 10 seconds and relax.
  • Lift your head by looking upward as far as you can, then lower it, resting your chin on your chest. Do this same movement three times.
  • Slide your hands across the back of the neck, from top to bottom, applying light pressure, and then repeat from the ear to the shoulders. Do this movement about 10 times in each area. Then massage, running with your thumb and remaining fingers about 10 times as well.
  • Tilt your head down as far as possible and backward as well. When leaning back, open your mouth as if to yawn, so that any tension is removed from the muscles.

How long does torticollis last? When does it pass?

In the case of muscular tension that causes torticollis when waking up in the morning, the average duration is about 48 hours. However, if the disturbance is caused by a serious illness, the recovery time depends on when the treatment is carried out.

Complications: what can torticollis cause?

Torticollis is usually caused by a minor injury or illness, it is temporary and treatable. However, some congenital and more severe forms can cause long-term problems, including:

  • Swollen neck muscle;
  • Neurological symptoms of compressed nerves;
  • Chronic pain;
  • Difficulty performing routine tasks;
  • Difficulty in socialization;
  • Depression.


It is easier to make the correction of congenital stiff neck in babies and young children.

If your stiff neck is untreatable, you may want to consider seeking a support group. Finding several people with chronic conditions can be a way to acquire more information about their condition, in addition to being comforting.

How to prevent Torticollis?

It is possible to prevent stiff neck with some basic precautions that you can take in your day-to-day.

  • Stress, poor posture, cold and wind are factors that should be avoided, as they can be the cause of a stiff neck.
  • If you work sitting in front of a computer, remember to stretch your neck every 45 minutes by rotating.
  • The computer must be at eye level, this will avoid bad posture and tension in the neck area.
  • Avoid sleeping on the sofa, especially if you are going to use the corner support to support your head.
  • Avoid bad habits, such as washing your hair in the sink or using your cell phone by holding it between your shoulder and ear, always try to use the headset.
  • Try to identify the cause of torticollis to learn how to avoid other episodes.
  • In winter, try to stay away from drafts and wear a scarf.
  • Try to do exercises to improve your posture, in order to avoid muscle tension and future pain.
  • Do not use pillows that are too low or too high, ideally, it should serve to keep your head in the same line as your body.
  • Carefully lift objects off the floor, the correct position for this is: bend your knees and keep your spine straight with your legs apart and, if possible, over the object. To lift the object, keep it as close to the body as possible.
  • If you are a woman, avoid wearing very high heels, as it deflects the spine and causes the neck to move forward, causing possible pain.
  • Do not sleep on your stomach, because in addition to harming your spine, it also hurts your neck vertebrae. Opt for the position known as “fetal”, which is on the side with the knees close to the chest.

Torticollis can occur after an incorrect movement, a sudden effort or a bad sleep.

The pain can be quite uncomfortable and hinder activities for a few days. But, in general, the condition tends to improve without aggravating factors, especially when medications and treatments are combined with recovery.

See more tips for taking care of posture and well-being in Hickey solution!