Torticollis - Symptoms and Diagnosis

What are the symptoms of torticollis?

Developing a wry neck (acute torticollis) occurs when the muscles supporting your neck on one side become painful. These symptoms usually come on very quickly, often overnight, so that you wake up with pain and stiffness down one side of your neck.

  • The pain is usually just on one side of your neck and stiffness of the muscles in that area twists the neck to one side.
  • You may find it very difficult when you try to straighten your neck, due to pain.
  • Occasionally, the pain is in the middle of your neck.
  • The pain may spread to the back of your head or to your shoulder.
  • The muscles of your affected side may be tender.
  • Pressure on certain areas may trigger a 'spasm' of these muscles.
  • Movement of your neck is restricted, particularly on one side.

Do I need any tests for torticollis?

The good news is that usually you will not need to have any tests to find out what is causing the problem. The diagnosis of sudden-onset wry neck (acute torticollis) is made from the typical symptoms.  Many people with milder symptoms diagnose this on their own.  Your doctor or a healthcare professional can usually make the diagnosis by performing an examination of your neck.

The examination can usually confirm the diagnosis and will also usually exclude the rarer causes of torticollis. Tests such as an X-rays are not generally needed.  Your doctor would only refer you for further tests if a condition other than acute torticollis is suspected.

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Dr Louise Newson
Peer Reviewer:
Dr John Cox
Document ID:
12556 (v5)
Last Checked:
03 July 2016
Next Review:
03 July 2019

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.