Painful and twisted neck

The first time you experience wry neck, you immediately know something is wrong.

Even the smallest movement is excruciatingly painful. You are not able to turn your head without pain. You may feel like you are not even able to get out of bed without help if you wake up with wry neck.

Torticollis/wry neck means, “A painfully twisted and tilted neck. The top of the head generally tilts to one side while the chin tilts to the other side.


  • You experienced an injury to your neck
  • Have poor posture or have held your neck in one position for too long
  • You were lifting something heavy
  • There was a sudden or quick movement that caused the muscles in your neck to react
  • You may have slept in an awkward position
  • You recently had a deep tissue, therapeutic massage
  • Congenital(present at birth)
  • Damage to the neck muscles or blood supply
  • Nervous system injury
  • Idiopathic (unknown)


  • Inability to move your head normally
  • Neck pain or stiffness
  • Headache
  • Having one shoulder higher than the other
  • Swollen neck muscles
  • Tilting of your chin to one side

Types of Torticollis

1. Temporary torticollis

This type of wry neck usually disappears after one or two days. It can be due to:

  • swollen lymph nodes
  • an ear infection
  • a cold
  • an injury to your head and neck that causes swellin

2. Fixed torticollis

Fixed torticollis is also called acute torticollis or permanent torticollis. It is usually due to a problem with the muscular or bony structure.

3. Muscular torticollis

This is the most common type of fixed torticollis. It results from scarring or tight muscles on one side of the neck.

4. Klippel-Feil syndrome

This is a rare, congenital form of wry neck. It occurs when the bones in your baby’s neck form incorrectly, notably due to two neck vertebrae being fused together. Children born with this condition may have difficulty with hearing and vision.

5. Cervical dystonia

This rare disorder is sometimes referred to as spasmodic torticollis. It causes neck muscles to contract in spasms. If you have cervical dystonia, your head twists or turns painfully to one side. It may also tilt forward or backward. Cervical dystonia sometimes goes away without treatment. However, there is a risk of recurrence.

This type of wry neck can happen to anyone. However, it is most commonly diagnosed in people who are middle aged. It also affects more women than men.

Usually a wry neck can go without treatment however it is very advisable to get therapy to prevent a chance of relapse.


  •  You can help prevent it by use of a proper pillow whereby it will promote proper sleeping posture.

Chronic wry neck can cause debilitating pain and difficulty performing daily tasks. Physical  
Treatments include:

  1. Ice
  2. Applying heat
  3. Massage
  4. Physical therapy
  5. Traction
  6. Stretching exercises
  7. Neck braces

This helps to reduce pain and stiffness promoting function and better activity. Treatment is most successful especially when started early, so do not sit with pain at home while you can get help.

Written By:
Dion Njogu,
Physical Therapist
Chiropractic & Physiotherapy Health Centre

Painful and Twisted Neck

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