I Woke Up With Horrible Neck Pain – Is it Torticollis? What Should I Do?

First things first …. Do not Panic ! Do not go running off to the ER or urgent care or any of those kinds of places. There is a perfectly good explanation for what is happening and if you stay calm and be smart, there are some things you can do on your own that will help.

Torticollis, also known as wry neck syndrome, is another way of saying that your neck really hurts bad and is all twisted in the wrong direction and you can not move it. The reason you can not move your neck is because of the muscle spasms. If you Google "torticollis" or "wry neck syndrome", you're going to get a wealth of information, most of it pretty confusing. The reason for the confusion is because there are some very serious versions of these disorders that are very rare and involve permanent shortening of the muscles. The only treatment is surgery and / or injections. If you have what is known as congenital torticollis or chronic acquired torticollis, then this article is probably not for you. What I am talking about is acute torticollis.

Acute torticollis can have a variety of causes, but usually the cause is unknown; you just wake up in the morning with your neck hurting and stuck in a bad position. It is very common to see this type of severe neck pain after an automobile accident, sports injury, or other type of injury. It is also common to see torticollis in the early spring and late fall when people begin sleeping with their windows open all night. The cool air tends to cause the neck muscles to spasm and get stuck.

So, what do you do? For the first few days, I would do nothing. That is right; I am a Chiropractor, telling you not to come to me right away. Look, what am I going to do? I can not adjust your neck with it all stuck to one side, it is just going to hurt. So, stay home and use ice. For the first 72 hours you should use ice and rest. When you use ice, put the ice in a towel and put it on your neck for 20 minutes (NO LONGER!), Then take it off for the reminder of the hour. Put it back on for 20 minutes. Do this every couple of hours.

Sometime toward the end of the 72 hours, it is going to be very important to see someone (EVEN IF YOU ARE FEELING GREAT). I am course going to recommend a Chiropractor, but there are other health care providers you can see. You are going to want to have your neck evaluated to rule out any complicated factors or underlying problems. You do not want this to become a chronic or long term problem. A Chiropractor will evaluate your neck and recommend the necessary treatments (if any) that are necessary to get you back to normal.

If you follow the icing recommendation for the first couple of days, your recovery time should be reliably short. You can simply use a zip lock bag of ice, or you can get one of those nice, flexible, re-usable ice packs. They are available from most pharmacies or visit your Chiropractor.