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Torticollis is a severe tightness of the muscles on one side of the neck. The tight muscles can make the head turn or lean to one side. And the head may also be pulled forward or backward. It is also called wryneck. There are two types, congenital (at birth) and spasmodic.

Congenital torticollis occurs at or shortly after birth. The neck muscle (sternocleidomastoid muscle) is shortened, bringing the infant's head slightly down and to one side. Experts don't know exactly what causes the shortened neck muscle.

Some cases of congenital torticollis are caused by a bone abnormality in the neck portion of the spine (cervical spine).

Spasmodic torticollis (cervical dystonia) occurs when the neck muscle is tight but not short. Dystonia means that there are involuntary movements and prolonged muscle contraction. It may be inherited or it can happen as a side effect of a medicine. Sometimes it's a symptom of another problem.

In children, treatment is needed to prevent the face from growing unevenly. The caregiver is taught how and how often to stretch the child's neck to help relieve torticollis. For severe cases, surgery may be needed.

In adults, treatment includes using heat and massage to help relieve head and neck pain. Stretching exercises and neck braces may help with muscle spasms. Medicines and injections are also used.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.