Muscle spasm in the neck causing twisting of the head; also known as wry neck

  • Age, gender, genetics, and lifestyle are not significant factors

In torticollis, the muscles on one side of the neck contract and cause the head to be pulled over to one side. The condition is typically accompanied by pain and stiffness in the neck.

Torticollis may develop in babies after a difficult birth involving neck muscle damage. In children, the disorder may be a result of swollen glands in the neck caused by an infection. Torticollis in adults is often caused by physical injury to muscles or by sleeping in an awkward position. The disorder can also be a side effect of certain drugs, such as some antipsychotic drugs. Rarely, it results from torsion dystonia, a neurological disorder that causes involuntary muscle contractions, or cervical spondylosis.

Your doctor may make the diagnosis from a physical examination. Torticollis in babies will gradually get better with physiotherapy. In adults and older children, painkillers, local heat, and massage may help to relieve the muscle spasm. Recovery usually takes only a few days but if torticollis persists, a local injection of botulinum toxin (see Muscle relaxants) may be given. If the disorder is caused by a particular drug, it will improve once the drug is stopped.


Muscle contraction on one side of the neck has caused this child’s head to tip to the side. This condition is called torticollis.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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