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Spasmodic torticollis and the upper cervical spine

By Staff | Apr 25, 2019

Spasmodic torticollis, also known as cervical dystonia or wryneck, is a debilitating movement disorder characterized by painful, involuntary muscle spasms that cause jerking, twisting, tremoring and other awkward postures and movements of the head and neck.

The condition most commonly involves the long muscle that runs along the side of the neck from the back of the ear to the collarbone, known at the sternocleidomastoid (SCM). In rare cases, torticollis may occur in infants after birth trauma, or difficult births, resulting in “infantile torticollis.” The term “torticollis” is derived from the Latin words “tortus” for twisted and “collum” for neck.

While the exact cause is unknown, many spasmodic torticollis patients report a precipitating event – an incident of physical trauma directed at the head and neck. In fact, medical researchers increasingly are naming head and neck trauma as a primary cause of torticollis onset; however, onset of symptoms may be delayed for several months or years after trauma.

Researchers believe that head/neck trauma triggers changes in the brainstem, including abnormal nerve transmission and neurochemical production. This disruption of brain function can lead to spasmodic torticollis symptoms.

Common sources of trauma include blows to the head, whiplash and/or concussion sustained as a result of motor vehicle accidents, falls and through high-impact sports such as surfing, soccer, gymnastics and horseback riding. Any of the above may cause ligaments supporting the head and neck to be sprained (stretched), which forces the upper cervical (neck) vertebrae out of their normal biomechanical position. This upper cervical misalignment can affect brain function and lead to the onset of torticollis.

Fortunately, a chiropractic technique that focuses upon the alignment of the upper cervical vertebrae, known as upper cervical care, provides a unique approach for treatment of spasmodic torticollis. Upper cervical chiropractic care utilizes two diagnostic tools – thermal imaging and digital X-rays – to accurately assess an upper cervical injury. After determining a diagnosis of cervical injury, each patient’s injured neck is corrected by administering a precise adjustment by hand on a specially-designed knee chest table. Many patients notice improvement in torticollis symptoms with just a few treatments.

With over 20 years of experience as a specialist in the upper cervical spine, Upper Cervical Chiropractor Dr. Erin Elster, D.C., has been working with individuals with spasmodic torticollis for the past six years on Maui. For more information on upper cervical care and trauma-induced injuries, contact Dr. Elster in Kahului at (808) 866-6551 or www.erinelster.com.