Tortocollis and Whiplash


Torticollis is a condition which is usually caused by a disc injury, either through whiplash or through sleeping in an awkward position.  When a disc or joint is injured, you are unable to move your neck.  Sometimes your head may be turned to one side or may be straight but can barely move in any direction.

Body’s Reaction is to Prevent Movement

The neck and spine are meant to move so we can quickly look in all directions.  A sign of both a joint and nerve problem is when movement of the spine causes intense pain.  A nerve may be compressed or pinched, stretched, or irritated by chemicals from inflammation/swelling.  The body’s defense mechanism is to put a splint on it with a muscle spasm to protect the nerve, which keeps you from moving your head.

Patients who Wear a Foam Collar after Whiplash do Worse

If the joint injury is reduced, by aligning the bones of the spine, the healing and scar tissue will stabilize the area in alignment. If the joint is left out of alignment or is hypermobile, this can lead to future degeneration. To get the joint moving and functioning normally again, you need to have motion through the joint adjustment, and exercises to keep activated. One study showed that patients who wear foam collars after whiplash, do worse than patients who were actively mobilized without collars. It may at first seem counterintuitive to move when pain is there, but it’s all about moving within your pain tolerances. Usually small motions are still preserved. Instead many patients wear collars or do not move their neck enough. This causes the muscles to become more inflexible and contracted. Overtime it can lead to substantial weakness and even atrophy (wasting away).

Small Movement is Encouraged

So even in the early stages of a whiplash, when the neck can barely move at all, small movements that are not painful are encouraged. The specific adjustment will reduce the irritation to the nerve that is signaling the muscles to spasm. Once the nerve is freed, then the muscle will usually release. Greater ranges of movement will follow as the body allows. This should not be hurried because the nerve and disk is at risk for re-injury in the very early stages of healing.

Medications and surgery will not correct the alignment of the spine. When the joint is sprained, it needs to be re-aligned to reduce the tension on the ligaments and disk. Your doctor of chiropractic can guide you through this process so the range of motion returns quickly.

One Response to “Tortocollis and Whiplash”

  1. Dr. Matthew Phinney Says:

    Great article! This site is a great resource to the community.

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