If you’ve woken up with a stiff and painful neck, that’s twisted to one side, you may have torticollis. When the symptoms of a twisted (or wry) neck appear suddenly (such as overnight), it is called acute torticollis.
Torticollis usually causes pain on one side of your neck but you may feel pain in the middle of the neck and in the shoulders and head. Your neck may be very tender and if you try to massage the area, to provide some relief, it’s possible your neck muscles will spasm. You may also find it difficult to straighten your neck or turn your head a particular way.
Symptoms of a twisted neck will usually disappear completely within a week, and they usually ease considerably within one or two days. Sometimes symptoms last longer, but this is not common.
Torticollis is the most common cause of neck pain in young people and it’s not generally associated with a previous neck injury or neck pain.
Causes of torticollis
Torticollis may be caused by:
- sitting or sleeping awkwardly, without sufficient support for your head
- poor posture, such as at a workstation that is not ergonomically suited to you
- carrying bags with unequal amounts of weight that cause your neck to strain, for example, a handbag on one side and heavy shopping bags on the other
- sleeping or sitting in a draughty room, where the neck is exposed to the cold.
You should see a doctor if:
- the pain is getting worse
- the pain doesn’t ease up in a week or so
- you have numbness, tingling or pins and needles in your arms or legs
- you start having difficulties with your bladder or bowel you have a fever as well as neck pain.
Not sure what to do next?
If you are still concerned about torticollis, why not use healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.
The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).
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Last reviewed: November 2017