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Acquired torticollis in children

Charles G Macias, MD, MPH
Vanthaya Gan, MD
Section Editors
Richard G Bachur, MD
William Phillips, MD
Glenn C Isaacson, MD, FAAP
Deputy Editor
James F Wiley, II, MD, MPH


This topic will discuss the causes, presentation, and evaluation of acquired torticollis. Congenital muscular torticollis and evaluation of neck stiffness are discussed separately. (See "Congenital muscular torticollis: Clinical features and diagnosis" and "Approach to neck stiffness in children" and "Congenital muscular torticollis: Management and prognosis".)


Torticollis or wryneck refers to lateral twisting of the neck that causes the head to tilt to one side with the chin turned to the opposite side (figure 1). In Latin, the word "torus" means "twisted" and "collum" means "neck".

The sternocleidomastoid (SCM) takes origin from two tendons (one from the manubrium sterni and one from the medial third of the clavicle) that combine to form a single muscle bundle running in the neck superiorly and posteriorly to insert onto the ipsilateral mastoid process of the temporal bone and the superior nuchal line of the occipital bone. Central to many but not all cases of torticollis is shortening or spasm of a SCM muscle that causes the abnormal posturing with variable degrees of neck flexion or extension [1].

Describing a child as having a "left" or "right" torticollis can result in confusion among providers, since some may be referring to the pathologic SCM muscle and others to the direction in which either the head and ear is tilted or the chin is rotated. To avoid this, we recommend that torticollis be described in terms of the direction of both head and ear tilt AND chin rotation (eg, torticollis with head tilt to the left and chin rotation to the right (picture 1)).

Torticollis may occur in congenital and acquired forms:

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Sep 06, 2017.
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