“When I woke up this morning, I couldn’t move my neck!  Every time I try to move it, I feel sharp pain on the left side of the neck shooting down into the shoulder blade.  It just came out of nowhere!” 

Chances are, you are suffering from a common condition called torticollis, which literally means, “twisted neck” after the Latin terms of “torti” (twisted) and “collis” (neck).  

It’s basically a painful muscle spasm, like a “Charlie-horse” but located in the neck muscles.  

This can happen for many reasons, and it is common among infants. 

Often a person wakes up in the morning with this and the cause is often related to sleeping with a poor quality pillow, an injury the day before or possibly sleeping with the window open or a fan or air conditioner blowing on you.  

However, it can also be a symptom that accompanies a "cold," due to lymphatic swelling. I've had patients who were hit with a pugil stick in military training. A car accident can also cause this. 

And infants who have torticollis often have it due to a traumatic birth - let's face it, birth is traumatic, even if all goes well. 

If it is due to some sort of traumatic injury, then their may be other problems, as well as the muscle spasm. 

Usually, torticollis will gradually improve over a 2 week time frame, but why wait that long? Plus, your body can begin to compensate for the spasm and create more tightness in other areas and long-term negative consequences.  

It often takes a few days to a week (at the most) if you receive treatment quickly after the onset.
            Patients that I see in Colorado Springs with headaches more often than not complain of neck pain.  Hence the term “cervicogenic headaches.”  

Anatomical Reasons Why Headaches and Neck Pain Are Connected 

1.  The first 3 nerves exiting the spine in the upper neck go directly into the head.  They penetrate the muscles at the top of the neck near the attachments to the skull. So, any excess pressure on these nerves by the muscles or spinal joints will result in irritation, neck pain and/or headaches.

2.  The origin or nucleus of the 5th cranial nerve called the Trigeminal, innervates the sensation to the face and is located in the upper cervical region near the origin of the 2nd cervical spinal nerve. The 2nd cervical spinal nerve innervates sensation to the back of the head and up to the top.  Problems located in the upper neck will often result in pain radiating up, from the base of the skull/upper neck, and over the top of the skull to the eyes and /or face.

3.  The 11th cranial nerve, which stimulates the upper shoulders and muscles in the front of the neck, arises from the top 5 to 7 spinal cord levels in the neck.  Injury anywhere in the neck can result in spasm and pain in these large muscle groups.

Pain often radiates from the tender points in these areas over the top of the skull when pressure is applied in the upper neck/base of the skull area. Tenderness on the sides of the head, in the temples, over the eyes, and near the jaw joint are also common. 

Common Recommended Treatments

Traction or pulling the head to stretch the neck is often quite pain relieving and this is often performed as part of the chiropractic visit and can also be applied at home with the use of a home cervical traction unit. 

Chiropractic adjustments applied to the fixated or misaligned vertebra in the upper neck often brings very satisfying relief to the headache sufferer.  

Exercises that promote movement in the neck, as well as strengthening exercises are also helpful in both reducing headache pain and in preventing occurrences, especially with stress or tension headaches.

To your health,

Dr. Molly Kallenbach, DC