Torticollis, or wry neck, is a condition in which the head is tilted toward one side, and the chin is elevated and turned toward the opposite side. Torticollis can be congenital or acquired. The etiology of congenital torticollis is unclear, but it is thought that birth trauma causes damage to the sternocleidomastoid muscle in the neck, which heals at a shorter length and causes the characteristic head position. Sometimes a mass in the muscle may be noted, but this mass may disappear within a few weeks of birth. more...
If the condition is detected early in life (before one year of age) it is treated with physical therapy and stretching to correct the tightness. The use of a TOT Collar can also be very effective. This treatment is usually all that is necessary to fix the problem. Particularly difficult cases may require surgical lengthening of the muscle if stretching fails. Also, if the condition does not respond well to stretching, other causes such as tumors, infections, ophthalmologic problems and other abnormalities should be ruled out with further testing. If torticollis is not corrected before one year of age, facial asymmetry can develop and is impossible to correct.
Acquired torticollis occurs because of another problem and usually presents in previously normal children. Trauma to the neck can cause atlantoaxial rotatory subluxation, in which the two vertebrae closest to the skull slide with respect to each other, tearing stabilizing ligaments; this condition is treated with traction to reduce the subluxation, followed by bracing or casting until the ligamentous injury heals. Tumors of the skull base (posterior fossa tumors) can compress the nerve supply to the neck and cause torticollis, and these problems must be treated surgically. Infections in the posterior pharynx can irritate the nerves supplying the neck muscles and cause torticollis, and these infections may be treated with antibiotics if they are not too severe, but could require surgical debridement in intractable cases. Ear infections and surgical removal of the adenoids can cause an entity known as Grisel's syndrome, in which a bony bridge develops in the neck and causes torticollis. This bridge must either be broken through manipulation of the neck, or surgically resected. There are many other rare causes of torticollis.
Evaluation of a child with torticollis begins with history taking to determine circumstances surrounding birth, and any possibility of trauma or associated symptoms. Physical examination reveals decreased rotation and bending to the side opposite from the affected muscle; 75% of congenital cases involve the right side. Evaluation should include a thorough neurologic examination, and the possibility of associated conditions such as developmental dysplasia of the hip and clubfoot should be examined. Radiographs of the cervical spine should be obtained to rule out obvious bony abnormality, and MRI should be considered if there is concern about structural problems or other conditions. Evaluation by an ophthalmologist should be considered in older children to ensure that the torticollis is not caused by vision problems. Most cases in infants respond well to physical therapy. Other causes should be treated as noted above.
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