Treating Acute Torticollis
Before any treatment, it's important to rule out any potential serious causes of torticollis. This means that even though most cases are self-limiting or will resolve on their own, it's still a good idea to rule out serious medical conditions.
“Red flag” symptoms for torticollis include: fever, swollen lymph nodes, significant headache, difficulty breathing, swallowing or speaking, ataxia, weakness, numbness or paresthesia in the extremities, and change in bowel or bladder function.
After ensuring that nothing serious is causing it, the next step is to focus on reducing spasm and improving your range of motion. This means getting a chiropractic adjustment is most likely not going to help you to feel better right away.
Instead, passive modalities including: ice, heat, continuous ultrasound, muscle stimulation or cervical traction may be useful. [1, 2]
Myofascial release of the SCM, trapezius, levator scapulae and other related muscles will also help before chiropractic adjustments.
Spinal manipulation or chiropractic adjustments, when not contraindicated, should be implemented as soon as tolerable.
Stretches that can be done as soon as you rule out “red flags” include:
While sitting, grasp the seat of your chair with your left hand. Rotate your head toward the right and look downward toward the floor. Place your right hand over the top of your head and gently pull down and diagonally in the direction you are looking. Against the resistance of your hand, contract your neck in an attempt to push your head backward/diagonally from the direction you are looking for seven seconds. Relax and gently pull your head further toward the floor to increase the stretch. Lock into this new position, and make sure that you continue to keep your head rotated in the direction that you are pulling. Perform three contract/relax cycles on each side twice per day or as directed.
Begin in a seated position. To stretch the right SCM, extend your head, rotate toward the right, and tip your head toward the left so that your left ear moves toward your left shoulder. Place your left hand on your left cheek and jaw. Against the resistance of your hand, attempt to rotate your head toward the left for seven seconds. Relax and slowly increase the stretch by rotating further toward the right and laterally flexing toward the left. “Lock in” to this new position and repeat three contract/relax cycles twice per day on each side or as directed.
While sitting, reach down with your right arm, grasping the bottom of a chair for stability. While looking straight ahead, place your left hand on top of your head, and gently pull your head sideways toward the left. Against the resistance of your arms, attempt to bring your right ear and right shoulder together for seven seconds. Relax and stretch further toward the left. “Lock-in” to each new position, and do not allow any slack. Repeat three contract/relax cycles on each side twice per day or as directed.