You consciously call on your muscles when you want to make big, whole-body movements like leaping over a puddle, and you subconsciously rely on them to keep your heart beating and your blood circulating even when you're not thinking about it. Either way, your mind and nerves are in control.
But when your muscles seem to have a mind of their own and make involuntary movements you can’t control, you have a condition called dystonia, and it can occur in any of your muscles for a wide range of reasons.
Triple-board certified physiatrist Dr. Stanley Mathew at American Rehabilitation Center in Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, and Anamosa, Iowa, diagnoses and treats all types of dystonia. Here, he takes a closer look at one type in particular — torticollis.
The many names of torticollis
Uncontrollable twitching, twisting, and turning in your neck muscles may indicate the presence of a condition that goes by a few different names:
- Cervical dystonia
Technically, torticollis is a form of cervical dystonia. To clarify, dystonia means involuntary muscle contractions, cervical dystonia means involuntary neck muscle contractions, and torticollis is a specific form of cervical dystonia that causes your head to rotate and tilt at an odd angle.
Wryneck is a common term used to describe the condition, named so after a type of woodpecker that twists its neck in a strange manner.
Causes of torticollis
Some babies are born with congenital torticollis, which is believed to occur due the baby’s position in the womb.
When adults acquire torticollis later in life, it can stem from something as simple as sleeping in an awkward position or as serious as a traumatic injury or a herniated disc.
Signs you may have torticollis
If you fall asleep in a chair, and your head drops downward, you may wake up with a stiff neck. A gentle massage, some ibuprofen, and a little time usually resolve the problem.
Torticollis, on the other hand, looks and feels different than the garden variety stiff neck. Your neck muscles spasm and contract beyond your control, your chin angles down toward one shoulder, and you find it difficult or impossible to turn your head in the other direction.
Torticollis may also cause neck pain that travels down your spine.
How we treat torticollis
Dr. Mathew treats torticollis with a variety of methods, including physical therapy, heat therapy, and ultrasound therapy. If these measures don’t release the tension and resolve the cervical dystonia, he may recommend Botox® injections.
The Food and Drug Administration approves Botox specifically for the treatment of torticollis because it effectively blocks the signals being sent from the nerves in your muscles to your brain, which puts a stop to the spasm.
Dr. Mathew expertly injects the Botox directly into the affected muscle, and the results are immediate for many people. The relief lasts for several weeks, and you can come back for another shot every three months, as needed.
The relief you experience between injections gives us an opportunity to address the underlying cause of the spasm and strengthen your neck muscles, which may eliminate your need for further treatment.
If you suspect you have torticollis or any type of dystonia, call us at American Rehabilitation Center today to schedule an appointment with Dr. Mathew, or book a consultation using our online booking tool.