Torticollis, also known as wryneck, is a neuromuscular disorder in which the muscles that control the position of the head contract involuntarily. As a result, the head may turn or twist to one side or be pulled forward or back. Torticollis can occur at any age, although most of those affected first experience symptoms in middle age. The disorder usually begins slowly and worsens until it reaches a plateau. In about 10 to 20 percent of all cases, torticollis goes into a temporary spontaneous remission. Symptoms can include neck muscle stiffness, a limited range of motion, headache, neck pain and head tremor. Torticollis can also lead to enlargement of neck muscles, most often when the condition is present at birth. Usually, the cause is unknown, but torticollis may have a genetic root. When it is present at birth, it may be the result of malpositioning of the baby’s head in the uterus or prenatal injury of the neck muscles.
I know of no herbs or ointments that can ease the pain of torticollis. The best treatment is Botox, which relieves both the pain and the muscle contraction. The Botox injections are safe and have become standard treatment for this condition. Unfortunately, Botox wears off after about three months, so the injections need to be repeated at regular intervals. Massage, the application of heat to the neck, and traction to the cervical spine may ease head and neck pain. Stretching exercises and neck braces may help with muscle spasms. You may also get some relief from acupuncture and from relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxation.
In addition, you may want to experiment with cranial osteopathy, which works through very gentle pressure applied with the hands to manipulate the bones and connective tissues of the head and tailbone. The aim is to free up restrictions in the movement of the cranial bones and allow the subtle rhythms of the central nervous system to express themselves in a balanced fashion. I’ve found cranial therapy to be extremely useful for a wide range of problems, from headaches to hyperactivity. You may want to give it a try. If you are interested in participating in clinical trials that may lead to new treatments for torticollis, click here for information.
Andrew Weil, M.D.