What Is Torticollis

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The doctor says you have torticollis, but what does that mean? Torticollis is one of those conditions you don't hear much about – they don't talk about it on the news or make movies about people with it. They should, though, because it is a painful condition that can affect anyone at any time. If you have torticollis, then it is time to get educated about it and learn whether laser surgery might help.

What is Torticollis?

Another medical term for torticollis is cervical dystonia, according to the Mayo Clinic. This condition causes involuntary contractions in the muscles of the neck. The contractions cause the head to twist uncomfortably and stay there. It can move in any direction suddenly, as well – forward and back like you are nodding or right to left as if shaking your head.

What are the Types of Torticollis?

There are multiple classifications for this dystonic condition, or neurological movement disorder. Some people are born with it, or it is congenital, due to birth trauma or poor positioning during gestation.

Acquired torticollis means the condition developed due to some other underlying cause. For example:

  • Tumors at the base of the skull
  • Certain types of throat infections or polyps
  • Ear infections
  • Removal of the adenoids

Most people have had a stiff neck at least once. This is a common form of torticollis that passes over time. It can mean you slept in an unusual position or trauma to the neck damaged the muscles to cause the contractions. Sometimes, there is no explanation or obvious trigger.

Who is at Risk for Developing Torticollis?

This condition becomes more common as you get older and tends to affect women more than men, explains the Mayo Clinic. The other risk factor is family history. If cervical dystonia runs in the family, you are at risk for it, as well. 

What are the Treatment Options for Torticollis?

Treatment will depend the classification of the condition, so it starts with a proper diagnosis. It is physically obvious when you have torticollis, because your head twists or you can't move it at all. The classification is harder for the doctor to determine. Imaging can help identify a structural anomaly such as a tumor. The physician may opt to look for toxins in the blood, as well, because certain drugs can cause contractions in the neck muscles.

An electromyography tests the electrical impulses in each muscle. This allows the doctor to narrow down the affected muscles and treat them separately.

Once classified, the doctor will create a care plan specific to your condition. It will involve medical interventions such as drug and physical therapy. It will include some self-help measures, as well, such as applying ice to the neck or doing stretching exercises to loosen up the muscles. If these treatments don't help, the next step is surgery.

When Do They Do Laser Surgery for Torticollis?

Laser surgery is an option if a small tumor, polyp or lesion is the underlying cause of the condition. If there is something pressing on a nerve, an ENT specialist can remove it more effectively using a laser. Laser surgery means less trauma and a quicker recovery time, too.

Cold laser treatments are helpful to reduce the pain that comes with torticollis, as well. This is a noninvasive laser option that will help a contracted muscle relax to alleviate the stiffness.

Having torticollis is a painful way to live, but for most people the condition is intermittent or temporary. The key is to get a diagnosis and then look for solutions that will help manage the pain. Ask your ear, nose and throat doctor if laser surgery or treatments are possible for your torticollis.

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