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Torticollis, also called wryneck or twisted neck, is a condition caused by tightened or shortened neck muscles. Children with this condition often have poor head control and tilt their head towards one side with the chin turned to the other side. This is usually observed in the first 6 to 8 weeks of life. In newborns, it can occur as a result of abnormal positioning of the head in the womb. In older children, it may result from injury to the neck muscles or from infections.


Torticollis may be an inherited defect, an acquired condition or congenital.

  • Inheritance: Gene mutations may result in different types of birth defects which may cause torticollis in the newborn.
  • Acquired causes of torticollis in children are:
    • Injury to the neck muscles caused by sleeping in an abnormal position (sleeping on the stomach or with head turned to one side)
    • Dislocation/fracture of the vertebrae in the neck.
    • Infection or inflammation of lymph nodes in the neck may interfere with neck movement. Retropharyngeal abscess, an infection causing abscess deep in the throat, is common in children 2-4 years of age.
    • Injury or diseases of the nervous system.
  • Congenital torticollis is present at birth and is usually caused by abnormal positioning of the growing fetus’s head in the womb which results in injury to the neck muscles.

Signs and Symptoms

Children with torticollis may exhibit various signs and symptoms such as:

Painless swelling or mass in the neck (can appear in infants during the first month).

Tilting of the head to one side with the chin pointing to the shoulder on the opposite side.

Limited ability to move the neck or turn the head.

One side of the face and head looks flattened (plagiocephaly) from the child laying their head on the same side while sleeping.

Pain and stiffness in the neck are characteristic symptoms of torticollis caused by injury or infection.


Your orthopedic physician will diagnose torticollis based on the birth history which reveals the possibility of any birth injury and a careful physical examination. X-rays and ultrasound examination of the neck may be done to rule out other abnormalities and confirm the diagnosis. A thorough neurologic exam helps to assess the cause of the


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