Opisthotonos is a condition in which a person holds their body in an abnormal position. The person is usually rigid and arches their back, with their head thrown backward. If a person with opisthotonos lies on their back, only the back of their head and heels touch the surface they are on.
Opisthotonos is much more common in infants and children than in adults. It is also more extreme in infants and children because of their less mature nervous systems.
Opisthotonos may occur in infants with meningitis. This is an infection of the meninges, the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. Opisthotonos may also occur as a sign of reduced brain function or injury to the nervous system.
Other causes may include:
Some antipsychotic medicines can cause a side effect called acute dystonic reaction. Opisthotonos may be part of this reaction.
In rare cases, infants born to women who drink large amounts of alcohol during pregnancy may have opisthotonus due to alcohol withdrawal.
A person who develops opisthotonos will need to be cared for in a hospital.
Go to the emergency room or call your local emergency number (such as 911) if symptoms of opisthotonos occur. Typically, opisthotonos is a symptom of other conditions that are serious enough for a person to seek medical attention.
This condition will be evaluated in a hospital, and emergency measures may be taken.
The health care provider will perform a physical examination and ask about symptoms to look for the cause of opisthotonos
Questions may include:
The physical examination will include a complete checkup of the nervous system.
Tests may include:
Treatment will depend on the cause. For example, if meningitis is the cause, medicines may be given.
Reviewed By: Alireza Minagar, MD, MBA, Professor, Department of Neurology, LSU Health Sciences Center, Shreveport, LA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.