Acquired Torticollis – Aka: Crick in the Neck

Waking up with a neck that can’t move is frightening. It can happen to anyone, from kids to adults. The good news is that chiropractic can help.  Brave Little Dude Gets Crick-In-the-Neck Little 5-year-old “Conner” came to my office with his head twisted and rotated. Poor little guy had hit his head on a low…

Brave Little Dude Gets Crick-in-the-neck

Little 5-year-old “Conner” came to my office with his head twisted and rotated. Poor little guy had hit his head on a low hanging tree branch a few days earlier! The impact was bad enough to send him to the ER for stitches and left him with a big bump on his head. The impact strained Conner’s neck.

He’s a restless sleeper, the bump was tender and he had a hard time finding a cozy position for a good night’s sleep. His mom said he just woke up the next day with his head stuck in one positione. He didn’t even want to play Legos.

Connor was a brave little dude. I explained how I was going to look for some popcorn in his neck and get it out. He let me adjust him and I gave him a bag of popcorn after. I try to keep popcorn on hand in the office to give kiddos after their first adjustment. He happily lined up several pieces of popcorn on my plastic spine model and then knocked them off, exclaiming how he “got the popcorn out too!” It was so cute!

Teenage Athlete Gets Crick-In-the-Neck

I remember the first time I needed a chiropractor. I was 16 years old and I woke up with a crick in my neck. I was in a deep sleep when my alarm sounded. My room was chilly from my open window. I had fallen asleep because it had been a warm spring day and neglected to close it. I jumped up in bed and I felt a small shift in my neck. I heard a pop and my neck spasmed! I found myself completely immobilized by acute neck pain and spasm. I could not turn my head at all. My neck was stuck and twisted over to the right. It felt like my my chin was pinned to my collar bone and any time I tried to move it hurt so bad!!!

My mom suggested I see her chiropractor and I refused. I was afraid.

Plus, I had heard chiropractors were weirdos.

I tried going to school, but came home early. I took some over-the-counter pain meds and a hot shower. I felt some minor relief. I had to skip swim practice that afternoon. When I woke up the next day, still stuck, I felt so much frustration I asked my mom to take me to Urgent Care.

She again suggested I see her chiropractor and I refused. I was still afraid. I had heard chiropractors were witch-doctors.

I went to Urgent Care and was diagnosed with Idiopathic Acquired Torticollis – the doctor words for “I don’t know why your neck is stuck, but it is”.

So what did the medical doctor recommend? Bed rest. Heat. Pain meds. He told me it would get better in about 3-4 weeks. “What!?!? 3-4 WEEKS?!?!” I had a swim meet in a few days. I was finally swimming Varsity! I felt so irritated he couldn’t do more.

My mom again suggested the chiropractor, and feeling defeated, I agreed.

She took me to see DR. TOM SMITH AT SURF CITY CHIROPRACTIC. He wasn’t a total weirdo. In fact, I’m happy to call him my friend and mentor now.

He was kind and thorough. He explained how the repetitive motion of swimming laps, moving my arms overhead, and turning my head over and over again to breath on the same side probably irritated the facet joints in my neck. He explained when those joints aren’t moving properly, or they get a little stuck, the muscles around my neck go into spasm to protect my spine. He explained how a chiropractic adjustment would restore the segmental motion in my neck so that I would be able to move again. Probably right away.

I was still afraid, but immediate relief sure sounded better than 3-4 weeks of pain and stiffness.

Dr. Smith cradled my head in his hands and expertly applied force to my spine. Again, I heard a pop and felt the shift.

It was a miracle! I had 90% of my range of motion back! It took a few more visits to get back to 100%.

What Is Crick-In-the-Neck?

Acquired Torticollis – AKA: Crick in the Neck, typically presents like this:

  1. You wake you with moderate/intense spasm
  2. The pain is often localized to one side of your neck
  3. Everyone can tell your neck is out because your head is rotated and/or laterally bent to one side
  4. Range of motion is severely limited and painful (OR, you are unable to turn your neck, even slightly)
  5. Its feels worse when trying to move

What Causes Crick-In-the-Neck?


  1. Drafts, colds, and unusual sleep positions are usually involved
  2. Recent trauma, whiplash, and often roller coaster rides
  3. Change in sleep due to a new pillow or mattress
  4. Repetitive movements of the neck (like breathing when swimming, or looking over your shoulder while riding a bike)
  5. Improper overhead lifting
  6. Anatomical spinal abnormalities
  7. In severe cases, there may be a disc bulge with radicular pain down the arm

How Do You Diagnose Crick-In-the-Neck?


  1. Multiple restrictions in the cervical/upper-thoracic spine (spinal misalignment, subluxation)
  2. Myofascial trigger points in the neck muscles
  3. Spasm in the trapezius, sternocleidomastoid, scalenes, levator scapula
  4. Positive orthopedic tests and sometimes neurological findings

How Do You Treat Crick-In-the-Neck?


Range of motion is very limited in these patients. This is why chiropractic manipulation, myofascial release, and BLADING are so effective. Acquired Torticollis is generally considered a self-limiting spontaneously occurring condition that will pass spontaneously in a few weeks. These episodes are commonly seen by chiropractors.

Because of the success rate, it’s my favorite condition to treat. I can usually speed up the recovery dramatically in a few visits.

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