Stiff neck. Leave it to the French to give it a fancy name!

How can something so much fun to pronounce be so painful to endure? That is the question I’ve been asking myself since being plagued by a stiff neck for the past week.

‘Torticolis’ is the term for a stiff neck in French. I find the French always prefer a highly technical medical term to describe even minor ills: a sore throat is ‘une angine’, an ear infection ‘une otite’, a chest cold ‘une bronchite’ and stomach flu is ‘une gastroentérite’. Note that all such afflictions are feminine in gender. (But that is worthy of another post.)

I am not sure why my neck would choose to play up now. I’ve never had a healthier lifestyle than in the past few weeks of confinement. My workload is low, so no stress there. I’ve been getting lots of sleep, eating healthy home-cooked food and exercising a reasonable amount each day. The only thing I may be doing a bit more than usual is sitting. And looking at my phone. And, come to think of it, worrying about running out of time to do all of the million things I would like to do in life before possibly dying on a respirator.

So maybe I am a bit stressed.

But, unlike the novel coronavirus, there is nothing all that new in this for me. I am a worrier by nature, constantly fighting down negative thoughts. Overall I do pretty well. Stay upbeat and mostly keep the demons away with a good balance of healthy living and therapeutic alcohol.

But back to the torticolis… (Seriously? doesn’t it sound like a fun type of pasta?) It seems I probably have some sort of cervical osteoarthritis, surely exacerbated by being deaf on one side and turning my head all the time to the right. Also sitting in front of a computer and right-side mousing. I spoke to my doctor about this on a video consult yesterday (the only kind he’s doing during the lockdown), which probably didn’t help my neck as I was staring at a screen again. He suggested the possibility of regenerative medicine, and platelet-rich plasma injections.

It certainly sounds promising and I intend to investigate further. While also trying to improve my posture at work, sit less and spend less time online. In the meantime, thanks a million to my friend Meeka for sharing a wonderful video of stretches to help correct forward head posture, along with much helpful info about COVID-19 on her blog.

Hope you are all staying healthy! Anyone else got a pain in the neck, back or other?

Photo by Aidas Ciziunas on Unsplash


  1. phildange · April 16, 2020

    Yeah, with this criminal government of ours I have a serious pain, but somewhere I can’t name in front of a pure girl like you .

    • MELewis · April 17, 2020

      Ah, then thank you for not sharing further! 😳 😅

  2. margaret21 · April 16, 2020

    Oh, that’s tough. Good luck with all your various possibilities about treatment and exercise.

    • MELewis · April 17, 2020

      Thank you! As long as there are treatment options, I will try them!

  3. Becky Ross Michael · April 16, 2020

    Maybe you’ve been doing something differently as of late…holding books in a certain way so you have to look down at a different angle, organizing things in upper cupboards so you have to look way up, etc. I was having similar problems as a teacher and found that looking/reaching up to work on bulletin boards, for example, was a problem. I was better off to stand on a low footstool so I could look more straight across. Heat on the neck helped me, too, while sitting still. My x-rays did show osteoarthritis, but I’ve been able to reduce its effects, and it’s been much better just by paying attention to how I do little, every day things!

    • MELewis · April 17, 2020

      Entirely possible! It’s true that the angle is key and I’ve found for example that certain chairs with no head support are just impossible. But minor adjustments do help. I do long for heat on the neck while sitting. What do you use for that?

      • Becky Ross Michael · April 17, 2020

        I use a heating pad when sitting in a comfy chair with a high back. I also used to have a thing shaped like a drape for the neck that was heatable in a microwave. I think it broke open, eventually, but there are probably better options on the market.

  4. acflory · April 16, 2020

    Regenerative medicine? Now that sounds interesting. I have neck and back problems too, and the thought of becoming a twisted old lady does not appeal. Then again, I guess I’ve always had a twisted sense of humour…:D

    Keep us posted about your torticolis.

    • phildange · April 16, 2020

      For all these pains, temporary handicaps or discomforts, I only know one solution : osteopathy . BUT -and this is essential- only a supehuman top class osteopath . In all my life I met two of this kind, the guys could or can treat anything, and in a short time . From experience I trust both by advance at 100% .
      Our main task is to find them . That’s why I don’t like to settle in another region, finding this kind of exceptional healers is like a quest, or a little miracle . Once you know them you stick, but how many years, meetings, attempts, before that ?
      For Mel’s torticolis I know where to send her, but it’s on the Atlantic coast . If only she was able to speak French with French aborigines, after a few years she would have found the Grail around her region .

      • acflory · April 17, 2020

        I’ve never been to an osteopath, but I’ve gone to the same chiropractor for close to 25 years so I totally agree with you about sticking with the ‘good ‘uns’. 😀

      • MELewis · April 17, 2020

        Well I did speak to the natives back in my old stomping ground outside Lyon and actually had a wonderful magician who also went by the official term of osteopath. Unfortunately no one in this area comes close (and a couple have done more harm than good). Maybe when we are released from captivity I will drive two hours to go back and see my guy. Glad you also have your Merlin!

    • MELewis · April 17, 2020

      Twisted humour? Now why I am I surprised we get along so well…? 😆

      • acflory · April 17, 2020

        -grin- I wonder. 😀 😀

  5. paul · April 16, 2020

    Well, That is something I have had. Not so much a stiff neck as a worn disc at the top of the spine that causes an ache in my neck. I have had scans and told by a specialist that it required surgery some years ago. The surgery sounded a bit drastic. I will not describe how they would go about it, it sounded frightening! .Being the coward that I am I declined and decided to bear it . I found that over the years it has become hardly noticeable. I jog, lift weights and I am as mobile as when I was 30. So I am happy that I never listened to the specialist. The ache can come and go and sometimes, it’s not very comfortable when I try to sleep on my shoulder but then I turn over onto my back and off to sleep I go.
    I am not advising anyone to ignore expert opinion, but I am just relating my own story. I did actually seek a second opinion that said it was a risky procedure and perhaps not altogether necessary.

    • MELewis · April 17, 2020

      It sounds like you did well indeed not to listen to that first opinion! I am by nature distrustful and if a medical professional tells me something I don’t want to hear I will go a great distance to check out other options. Your approach sounds sensible. As we age it seems that various aches and pains are inevitable; it’s really a matter of adjusting the way we do things and accepting that things change. Good on you for keeping up the exercise and staying fit!

  6. Osyth · April 16, 2020

    I’ve always loved the French insistence on using serious words to describe little aches and pains. But then, I have always loved the French relationship with medicine which is wholly different to anything I had experienced in my own home-country. Not thoroughly better nor thoroughly worse just very different.

    I think we are probably all holding ourselves somewhat tensely in this moment when we are surrounded by the notion that our own impending demise maybe somewhat more impending than henceforth considered. That and being deaf in one ear. I had a cat that was deaf in one ear and she always held her head slightly to one side. She was adorable for the avoidance of doubt as I sling her in as a, possibly inappropriate comparison to your enduring torticolis. I have nothing at all valuable to offer so that was my best attempt.

    • phildange · April 16, 2020

      I think you miss something here . We do use terms like sore throat (mal à la gorge), earache (mal à l’oreille), stomach troubles ( mal au ventre) when we perceive these hassles as minor and possibly temporary . This allows us to express the difference when a real otitis, gastroenteritis or bronchitis is medically diagnosed . Only psycho hypocondriacs will call their small earache an otitis .

      • Osyth · April 16, 2020

        Believe me, Phil – the British have a very different approach to all things medical than the French. Things tend to be sore, a bug or an ache. Anything more technical than that is too much of an effort for the average Englishman to bother to try and pronounce 😉

      • phildange · April 16, 2020

        Yes but it lacks precision . I can’t count the occasions when I was frustrated with my many British mates in such cases . They said they had an earache, but how serious ? I often had to ask for more important information (is it just sore or are you really ill ? Do we have to cancel our orgy tonight?)
        As my pal Confucius said, poorly elaborated dialects make primitive thinking .

      • Osyth · April 16, 2020

        It’s funny because in fact English, properly used as I will flatter myself I do, is a fertile language with a deep and rich vocabulary and the possibility of infinite nuances of description. Sadly, as you have often commented, I remember – most English speakers use their language lazily and don’t call on the wealth at their disposal, preferring instead to précis in a most useless way!

    • MELewis · April 17, 2020

      Thanks for sharing your deaf cat — calls up a cute image at least! Tension does creep up on me unawares. I often don’t notice until much later when I actually relax that I have been holding myself in an abnormal way that results in pain, even when smiling for too long. One thing may have been all the Skyping and Zooming in recent days of lockdown as we sat and stared at various screens. And I’ve noticed that slumping in front of the evening news to hear about the latest death and destruction does not help either.

      • Osyth · April 17, 2020

        I’m glad she provided a nice image. The news brings such a weight to the shoulders it is impossible not to slump under it’s weight ….

  7. George Lewis · April 16, 2020

    Sounds like you have a repetitive strain injury from looking down to your computer screen. I used to sell devices to correct these problems. You should be sitting in a good chair with back and arm support and with your computer screen top edge at eyebrow level or as close to it as possible. What type o computer are you using? Laptops are particularly bad with the keyboard attached. You maybe should use a separate keyboard so that the screen can be elevated so that the top edge is at eyebrow level.phones are even worse, so try to use it as little as possible as a computer..
    People do not realize how much your head weighs and as you look down, gravity increases the weight significantly. I have a graphic to illustrate this which I will send you if I can find it
    I also may have a left over laptop stand that might help

    • MELewis · April 17, 2020

      Well I do have a less-than-ideal workstation situation as I work on an iMac (integrated screen with no height adjustment possible). But it is a very big screen and I have plenty of desk space so can move it further or closer away as needed. That’s for work-work. For this kind of blogging and creative writing I am usually reclined (okay, in bed!) on pillows with a laptop support. So I don’t think the laptop stand would help. I will take your suggestions to heart and figure out where I’m going wrong. I think it probably is looking up or down from the wrong position. The pain makes you very aware of how heavy the head actually is!

  8. Dale · April 17, 2020

    In my family, we call it a torti-câlisse… 😉
    And it’s funny. I am suffering a sore neck but unlike you, I am not sleeping well and spending way too much time on the computer and cell… And I definitely have to move my laptop off of my lap!
    Hope you fix your situation!

    • MELewis · April 17, 2020

      Torti-câlisse, ha, ha…sounds like an appropriate mash-up! 🤣 Sorry to hear you’re not sleeping well. It’s hard not to spend more time than usual on these devices when you have nowhere to go. But I do find that my sensitivity to blue light makes it impossible to get a good night’s sleep if I’m on computer or phone in the evening. Migraine almost guaranteed to wake me in the middle of the night. So I have a rule: nothing online after 8 pm. It really helps.

      • Dale · April 17, 2020

        Haha! I think it’s a case of saying I’m not bothered by this situation but deep down, am.
        I have to implement that rule – at least an hour or two before bed…

  9. Sarah · April 17, 2020

    Thankyou for sharing Meeka’s blog. I have already done the exercises and will do them again for the rest of my life. Chris Cuomo’s piece is fascinatibg, Would it help everyone?

    • MELewis · April 18, 2020

      You are welcome! I think the shoulder and neck exercises should help just about everyone and Cuomo’s testimony about Covid is certainly gripping. Glad to have pointed you to Meeka’s blog!

  10. Ally Bean · April 19, 2020

    I am sitting more than normal, but trying to get outside once a day for a short walk around the neighborhood. My lower back aches because of it [the sitting not the walking]. I’m off to see what Meeka has shared. I can use any ideas about how to live healthier at this point. Thanks.

    • MELewis · April 21, 2020

      Welcome! I hope it helps. The exercises are very helpful but sometimes when you have an inflamed muscle or ligament, you have to wait and let it rest first. We are all learning to be patient during these troubled times.

  11. nessafrance · April 20, 2020

    I hope your stiff neck will ease up soon. I rarely suffer from that, but I do get sudden twinges in my back, which can last for a couple of days. Anno domini, I suppose.

    • MELewis · April 21, 2020

      Thanks! You do a lot of gardening, I think, which is hard on the back. But if it’s not one thing it’s another. Just grateful they don’t all come at once!

  12. George lewis · May 22, 2020

    Don’t overlook the simple analysis of your workstation and your posture while on the workstation to correct many repetitive stress problems. Basically everything should be at right angles with your spine supported in a vertical position your screen top at eyebrow height your forearms horizontal and supported by an arm rest. Your feet should be on the floor or supported by a footrest so that you are using the chair backrest to help support your spine. If you are using reference material it should be held on a document holder beside your screen so you are not looking down to your desk top.

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