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Updated: Sep 18, 2018

Wendy, one of my usual patients brings her three kids in for wellness adjustments while she gets her adjustment to control her migraines and lower back pain.  Today, she was assisting her husband to my adjusting table. She was leading him because he couldn't turn his head to the right. He had  a 'kink' in his neck forcing his head to be tilted to the left and turned slightly to the left. Every step that he took made him shudder due to the severe pain in the right side of his neck and shoulder blade.

This was a severe case of torticollis. This is also the source of my current comment to those afflicted by it that "I've seen a grown man cry from this." Most patients don't suffer from this severity, however, torticollis can be extremely distracting and painful. It affects your ability to drive, to breath in,  to turn or tilt your head to one direction, and makes sleeping soundly difficult.

If you've heard of a football player having a "stinger", this is most likely a case of torticollis. This syndrome is easily handled by a chiropractor who can will resolve with treatment in as little as four days. Most medical doctors will prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs and muscle relaxers and it can take weeks for mobility to return. Plus the drugs obviously do not correct the underlying cause.

Why does it occur seemingly out of nowhere? I'm not sure, but the symptoms typically flare suddenly in the morning. The usually culprits for the cause are:

  1. Sleeping awkwardly

  2. Getting a draft from an open window, or air conditioner vent, or being out in the wind

  3. Emotional stress

The effect of one, or more of these, is that the chill or awkward position causes the muscles of the neck and shoulder to tighten. Because the muscles anchor to the neck vertebra, the muscles yank the vertebra out of alignment causing the nerves exiting the neck to get irritated or pinched. This, in turn, irritates the muscles and causes them to tighten more. It becomes a vicious cycle. Because of the irritation, swelling within the muscle tissue occurs. This makes torticollis the one instance where a muscle spasm should not be massaged. Any pressure on the muscle tissue will cause the inflammation to get worse, which creates even more pain. Refrain from putting pressure into the muscle yourself by digging your fingers into the sore spots.

The treatment is a short course of a very specific style of adjusting using the Thompson drop table. Usually, four to six adjustments gets a person back to 100%. Home care is very important. A combination of ice and heat that I will outline below treats the pain and inflammation and the spasm. If this syndrome wakes you in the middle of the night, get yourself out of bed, and use the ice and heat. This will help you to fall asleep again.

Ice and heat directions:

  1. Use ice for 10 minutes on the area of pain. This could be your neck or your shoulder blade or both.

  2. Immediately following the ice, use 10 minutes of moist heat. Moist heat is something that you put in the microwave, or a hot water bottle. Resist the temptation to use heat for longer than 10 minutes.

  3. Repeat the above ice and heat combination every hour.

In severe cases, a TENS unit is very helpful to reduce pain and spasm as you heal.

A few words of advise:

  1. Do not force you head to turn towards the pain.

  2. Keep your neck protected from cold air outdoors, the wind, air conditioner vents, and open windows. You may need to wear a scarf or hooded sweater  indoors and out.

  3. Get those 4-6 adjustments as quick as possible. Four consecutive days works well. You should expect 25% improvement with the first adjustment, 50% after the second, 75% after the third, and 100% after the fourth adjustment.

  4. If you feel much better with an adjustment or two, but are not completely 100% improved, continue to get your adjustments. It is imperative to continue your adjustments until you reach 100% improvement. If not, the condition will go dormant temporarily then flare up severely.

  5. Resist the urge to massage it. I know it feels like it would help. I know it feels like if someone could "crack" your neck or upper back it would feel better. Both of these things would cause the pain and stiffness to intensify.


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