Torticollis: A Common Pain In The Neck!
By Dr. Brian Betts
Torticollis is Latin for twisted (tortus) + neck (collum), 1 and is a common disorder that most likely has affected you or someone that you know. The kind of Torticollis that I am referring to is called Spasmodic Torticollis, 1 which can be mild to severe in pain and decreasing the normal range of motion of the cervical spine, and can bring on headaches and tingling or numbness into the affected arm, otherwise known as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS). In most cases, people who are affected by this disorder generally wake with a stiff and painful neck, which will worsen as the day goes on. What I have found to be common causes for this condition include: Previous Trauma, Repetitive Work and Overuse, Stress, Coughing and Sneezing (colds and allergies), Smoking and Significant Computer Work.
What occurs is that the vertebrae in the cervical and upper thoracic spine, and commonly the first rib on the affected side, become subluxated or misaligned either by trauma of by being pulled out of alignment by tight and overused muscles. The muscles that I have seen to be most affected are: Upper Trapezius, Rhomboid, Levator Scapula, Scalenes, and the Sternocleidomastoid. These muscles begin to spasm and become inflamed causing pain and decreasing the range of motion in the cervical and upper thoracic spine. Headaches can occur, and if the inflammation and muscle spasm are severe enough, pressure on the nerves and vasculature on the affected side can cause TOS.
DO NOT USE HEAT!
Many people feel that they need to use heat to help loosen up the muscles. This will only cause more inflammation and pain and a further decrease in the range of motion of the affected spinal areas.
USE ICE AND GENTLE STRETCHING!
Do gentle range of motion stretches to help loosen up the muscles, but not to cause increased pain. Then use ice for 15-20 minutes to help the inflammation of the affected areas. Repeat every 2 hours and call your chiropractor and set up an appointment immediately to correct the subluxated vertebrae and relieve the spasmodic muscles. Generally it will take 2-5 treatments to recover from these episodes, as long as you do your muscle stretching and home ice therapy. Medications will not help to relieve this condition as the main cause is a misalignment of the vertebrae. Massage can be used on mild cases as long as you ice after the session, but I would recommend with moderate to severe cases that no massage be performed until the pain and swelling are past the acute stage, which is generally 2-4 days.
Prevention of Torticollis, as with other musculoskeletal disorders, is not easy to achieve, but by following these tips and suggestions, it can definitely help to reduce the severity and occurrence of this disorder.
- Drink water and stay hydrated. A generally rule is to divide your body weight in half and drink that number of ounces of water per day. Also, limit the amount of coffee, soda’s and sports drinks that you consume, as you will need to take in 2 ounces of water for every ounce of these liquids that you drink.
- Stretching daily and exercising 3-4 days per week will help keep your muscles flexible, toned and decrease stiffness. The exercise will also help your heart and lungs as well as help in relieving your mental, emotional and physical stress.
- Chiropractic adjustments on a regular basis will also help by keeping the vertebrae of your spine in proper alignment and relive muscle tension and stress.
- Take regular breaks and stretch when doing repetitive work and tasks, especially if you are not use to doing them. In my opinion, this is probably the biggest cause of this condition that I have seen in my patients over the years. Some classic examples are raking leaves and painting, things that you and your muscles are not use to doing on a regular basis, no matter how good of shape that you are in, take regular breaks and prevent the misery.
Remember, if you wake up in the morning with pain and stiffness in your neck and upper back, do some gentle stretching and ice as soon as possible, and call your chiropractor immediately for an appointment. The longer that you wait the worse that it will get, and it may take longer for my colleagues and I to get you back to normal and pain free.
Dr. Brian Betts
Lake Marion Chiropractic Center
9202 202nd St. W. #203
Lakeville, MN 55044
1. Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary – 27th edition, 1988, W.B. Saunders Company, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.
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