What is Torticollis?
Torticollis is diagnosed by tightened muscles on one side of your baby’s neck, which leaves your baby’s head at a tilt or a rotation towards that side of the tightened muscle. In infants, Torticollis is common, and studies have found it to affect 3 out of every 100 babies born. Fortunately, for the majority of cases, Torticollis is easily treatable.
You as a parent may be the first to notice that your baby is preferring to only look in one direction or notice their head tilt to one side, or at your baby’s check-ups, your doctor may notice this rotational preference or head tilt, and recommend you begin Physical Therapy.
More than likely, if your baby has been diagnosed with Torticollis, they were born with it. This is called Congenital Torticollis, and is normally due to the way your baby was positioned in utero. There are a few cases where infants develop Torticollis after birth due to trauma or infection, but this is more rare.
Although most Torticollis cases are congenital, signs and symptoms of Torticollis may not be observed until your baby is between 6-8 weeks old, as this is the age when most infants begin to gain more control of their head and neck. If your child has Congenital Torticollis, you will begin to notice around this age that their head may tilt or rotate to one side, they have limited range of motion in one side of their neck, or your child may prefer feedings on one side only. One of the most common symptoms that can be observed is called Plagiocephaly, which is a flat spot that appears on the back of your baby’s head on the side that the child likes to look toward.
How does Torticollis effect my child’s growth and development?
Due to the tightened muscle (sternocleidomastoid) on one side of your baby’s neck, this may prohibit your baby from meeting some age appropriate milestones. Due to the muscle tightness, your child may not be able to hold their head in midline when laying down on their back or in supported/unsupported sit. If your baby has a rotational preference, they may only be able to roll towards that side, as they are unable to rotate their head to the opposite side for a roll. If your baby is sleeping with their head rotated towards the same side every time they sleep, they may begin to develop Plagiocephaly.
How will Physical Therapy help my child with Torticollis?
It is best to start Physical Therapy as soon as signs and symptoms of Torticollis are noticed. The earlier Physical Therapy is started, the less likely your therapist will recommend a helmet for correction of Plagiocephaly. The best window for a helmet is between 6-12 months, as this is when a baby’s head is most malleable, so intensive Physical Therapy sessions with extensive Home Exercise Programs will help to prevent the need for a helmet for correction.
The benefits of Physical Therapy for children with Tortcollis are numerous, and include:
- Increased cervical musculature strength
- Increased cervical range of motion on their tight side
- Equal cervical rotational range of motion
- No more positional preferences in only looking to one side
- Decreased chance of the need for a helmet to correct Plagiocephaly
- Assist in meeting age-appropriate gross motor milestones