Conditions > Torticollis
Natural Relief of Infant & Adult Torticollis
How do I treat infant torticollis?
Infant torticollis is a congenital condition that occurs in infants, most often after a challenging delivery. Once diagnosed, this condition can be treated easily and effectively using osteopathic manipulation.
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What is infant torticollis?
If your infant’s head seems to tilt to one side, or has difficulty turning the head, he or she may be suffering from infant torticollis.
After delivery, infants can experience this congenital or acquired condition. But the goods news is this is a simple condition to diagnose and treat. In fact, even adults may find themselves one day waking up with a case of torticollis.
Infant torticollis can be caused by many different things. Most commonly, infant torticollis occurs after a challenging delivery.
A challenging delivery may result in injury to the infant’s collarbone or a stretching of certain nerve structures. The result is a tightening of the sternocleidomastoid muscle. The sternocleidomastoid muscle connects the infant’s collarbone and breastbone to the skull. A tight sternocleidomastoid muscle means the infant’s skull is being pulled to one side.
In some cases, however, there is no explanation for why the infant has a preference in how he or she likes to rest the head.
Infant torticollis is usually easily diagnosable. The most common symptoms can include:
Head tilted to one side
Difficulty turning the head to one side
Irritability and distress
In most cases, infant torticollis will resolve on its own as muscles and nerves relax over time following delivery. However, treatment may bring about faster relief.
You can begin treating infant torticollis at home. Place toys and objects on the side your infant does not like to look towards. You can also start approaching the crib on the same side the infant does not turn towards. This can encourage looking in the other direction.
Osteopathic manipulation treatment (OMT) – OMT can treat ongoing cases of infant torticollis. During the birth process, the infant may experience some compression in the occiput. This is the bone at the very back of the skull. A lot of important nerves pass through the occiput, including nerves that contribute to rotating and turning the head.
If those nerves are being compressed by the occiput, the nerves may be irritated and contribute to the shortening of the sternocleidomastoid muscle.
Osteopathic manipulation gently opens the space between the bones of the skull and decompresses these important nerves, allowing the muscles to relax. Osteopathic treatment for infant torticollis is often times well tolerated, with many infants falling asleep.
Physical therapy for infants – If the torticollis is persistent, adding infant-like occupational or physical therapy can help develop head movements that build up the muscle strength and encourage the development of the infant’s range of motion.
Torticollis in adults (wry neck)
Torticollis can also occur in adults. If you have ever woken up with a crick in your neck, you may be experiencing an onset of torticollis. This can occur after sleeping in a new bed or in a strange position.
In most cases, this is a self limiting condition and will go away on its own. However, you may find yourself with a stiff neck, difficulty driving and looking behind you, or find it difficult to look our your side mirror.
Treatment for adult torticollis (wry neck)
If your torticollis persists for more than a few days, I recommend checking in with your doctor to make sure something else isn’t causing your neck pain.
Heating packs – I typically advise that you begin treating wry neck by applying heating packs to the area. Increasing blood flow to the area can help calm the irritated muscles. A hot shower can do the same thing.
Capzasin cream or Tiger Balm – The next thing I recommend, especially if you are on the road, is to purchase some capsaicin cream. I suggest the brands Capzasin or Tiger Balm, and avoiding the generics. I find generics are simply not as potent, and don’t work as well. Both of these will have substances in the skin that disrupt the nerve flow that’s coming from the skin. If we disrupt that, it also disrupts nerve flow coming from deeper structures, reducing the pain from wry neck.
Gentle stretching – Gentle range of motion exercises can be as simple as sitting in a chair and slowly starting to rotate the head as much as you can without causing any discomfort. Start slowly and make the circles bigger. Do this for about 5 minutes, and repeat as many times as you can during the day.
Tylenol and Advil – For any discomfort that stretches and heating packs don’t help, you can safely begin taking a Tylenol. If absolutely necessary, anti-inflammatories such as Advil or Aleve can be effective.
Natural treatments – For cricks in the neck that don’t go away, or that get a little better but persist, osteopathic manipulation and acupuncture can be effective. Osteopathic manipulation can help relax muscles that are tightened, help them decongest, and help them start moving better. Acupuncture therapy can break up any knots in the muscle, help increase range of motion, and help reduce any pain generators in the muscle.
Torticollis explained https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23271760
Congenital torticollis https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3814673/
Adult torticollis treatment https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2611989/
Written by: Dr. Dan Williams, DO
Last edited: March 4, 2019