Torticollis (cervical dystonia or spasmodic torticollis) is a type of movement disorder in which the muscles controlling the neck cause sustained twisting or frequent jerking. A deformity of the neck is caused by a shortening of the neck muscles; this condition causes the head to tilt to the affected side with the chin pointing to the other side. There are three types of torticollis:
The nerve signals responsible for torticollis are thought to originate in the basal ganglia, a group of brain structures involved in movement control. The exact defect is unknown. Some cases of dystonia are due to the inheritance of a defective gene, whose function is unknown at the time of writing. Other cases are correlated with neck or head trauma, such as from an automobile accident. Use of certain antipsychotic drugs, or neuroleptics, can induce dystonia.
Symptoms usually begin gradually, and may be intermittent at first, worsening in times of stress. Symptoms usually progress over two to five years, and then remain steady. Symptoms may be relieved somewhat when lying down. Many people with torticollis can temporarily correct their head position by sensory tricks, as touching the chin or cheek on the side opposite the turning. The reason for the effectiveness of this "geste antagoniste", as it is called, is unknown.
Dystonia tends to become more severe during the first months or years after onset, and may spread to other regions, especially the jaw, arm, or leg.
Torticollis should not be confused with such other causes of abnormal neck posture as orthopedic or congenital problems.
Injection of botulinum toxin (Botox, BTX) is considered by many to be the treatment of choice. By preventing release of chemical messages from the nerve endings that stimulate the involved muscles, BTX partially paralyzes the muscles, therefore allowing more normal posture and range of motion. BTX treatment lasts several months, and may be repeated.
Physical therapy can help relieve secondary consequences of torticollis. Regular muscle stretching prevents contracture, or permanent muscle shortening. Pain and spasm may be temporarily lessened with application of heat or ice. Stress management techniques may help prevent worsening. An occupational therapist can suggest home or work modifications to reduce fatigue and improve function. Braces constructed to replace the patient's own sensory tricks may help reduce abnormal posture.
Biofeedback may be effective for some patients. Regular massage therapy can reduce additional pain in compensating areas of the body. Two energy-based therapies, acupuncture and homeopathic medicine, can work to rebalance the whole person, helping to correct the torticollis. Antispasmodic herbs may help to relax the muscles. In addition, herbs that can help balance the stimulus from the nervous system are often recommended.
There is no way known to prevent torticollis.
The pain of torticollis may spread to the arms or hands.
Pain in the neck, back, or shoulder affects more than two-thirds of all people with torticollis.