Torticollis is a condition where a joint or disk is injured and you can’t move your neck. Sometimes the head is bent or turned a little to one side. And sometimes you’re straight but can barely move in any direction. This type of problem is usually caused by a disk injury. Whiplash can cause this condition or it can come on by sleeping in an awkward way.
The spine is meant to move a lot, especially the neck. This is so we can quickly look around, above, and below. When the spine cannot be moved without intense pain, it’s a sign of both a joint and nerve problem. The nerve may be pinched or compressed, stretched, or irritated by chemicals from inflammation/swelling. To protect the nerve, the body puts a splint on it with muscle spasm. This keeps you from moving your head.
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 then 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).
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.