It began last Monday morning at work. I hadn’t done anything unusual; I hadn’t even ridden my bike to work that morning. But suddenly I realized my neck hurt when I turned my head to the right. It felt rather like I had slept on it poorly the night before, so even though I hadn’t noticed it that morning when I woke up, I assumed it would pass. I tried to stretch it some throughout the day and hoped that the next day would be better.
Instead of getting better, though, the pain got worse. Tuesday I woke up sore and stiff after a fitful night of trying to ignore the pain in my neck. Turning my head more than a little bit to the right caused a sharp pain in my neck and upper back. It was beginning to feel more like a pinched nerve than sore muscles. But I decided to tough it out and even did my bike commute.
Then I woke up Wednesday, and I could not lift my head off the pillow. The slightest motion sent pain shooting through my neck, and by this point it had spread to the base of my skull. There was no question that something was seriously wrong and that I had to see a doctor.
Using Angie’s List, I found a chiropractor with good reviews and then sat and waited for the office to open so I could call to make an appointment. Fast forward to 3:00 that afternoon, the first available appointment. (I spent most of the day sitting on the couch reading The Onion and trying not to move, if you’re interested…) As I sat in the waiting room filling out my medical history and making as little movement as possible, I thought to myself, “I sure hope the doctor knows what’s wrong and how to fix it.” I felt like a cripple and had visions of being semi-paralyzed for the rest of my life.
When I finally made it to the examination room (dragging Jordan along with me), the nurse told me my blood pressure was high, but that if I was in pain, my readings could be higher. Um, yes. Then the doctor arrived, and I explained my symptoms and the fact that it had happened without any warning or apparent provocation. When I finished, he immediately responded with “torticollis.” The only other time I’d heard of torticollis was Rooney’s. So my first thought was, “Isn’t that something babies get?” followed by, “Surely this doctor is confused.” The more he described it, though, and the more questions I asked, the more convinced I was that he was right. And then I wanted to cry tears of relief because he knew; he understood. He even said he’d experienced it himself.
“Torticollis” literally means “twisted neck,” from the Latin tortus, “twisted,” and collum, “neck.” My chiropractor said in my case it was likely caused by temperature: when the days are warm and we have our fans running at night, the contrast of the cold air at night can cause the muscles to seize up. Since mine occurred during the work day, we determined a possible cause was the air conditioning vent directly over my desk. When the muscle seizes up like that, the chiropractor described it as being something like catching a cold or a virus, and that in this case the “cure” was heat and stimulation to force the muscle to relax.
After electrical muscle stimulation (on an extremely low setting because of the intense pain!), a neck massage, and a chiropractic adjustment, I was not in perfect health, but I had regained a significant amount of mobility. I survived helping in the nursery at church that night, although there was a moment my muscles gave way while I was holding a child… But don’t worry, I didn’t let go! (After that confession they’ll never let me work in the nursery again.)
After the same treatment Thursday and today, I’m feeling very nearly back to normal, with only a slight twinge of pain when I turn my head as far as I can to the right. I go back to the chiropractor again on Thursday, at which point I’m hoping this will be nothing more than a painful memory.