This neck condition, common among infants, is treatable with physical therapy.
Torticollis is a neck condition in which the head or neck bends to one side, causing head tilt. The condition, also known as wryneck, is relatively common in newborns and can be present at birth, acquired later in infancy, or may result from damage to the neck muscles or blood supply.
Torticollis is an excessive contraction or tightness of the baby’s sternocleidomastoid muscle (SCM), a large muscle that extends down each side of the neck from the back of the ear to the collarbone. Any damage or alteration to muscle tissue on one side of the SCM can cause the muscle to tighten or shorten, making it hard for affected babies to turn their heads.
It is unknown why some babies develop torticollis and others don’t. Some doctors believe it could result from cramping inside the uterus or atypical positioning in the birth canal (the breech position). Some doctors believe that the use of forceps or vacuum devices during delivery might also increase the risk of torticollis.
Symptoms of Torticollis
While torticollis in adults may be painful, there is no evidence to support that infants experience pain or discomfort from the condition. Babies with torticollis will act like other babies except when it comes to activities that involve turning. A baby with torticollis may:
- Tilt its head in one direction
- Prefer to look over one shoulder instead of following objects with its eyes
- Exhibit problems breastfeeding on one side, or strongly favor one breast over the other
- Try to turn toward something and become exasperated when unable to turn its head.
Some babies with torticollis also exhibit positional plagiocephaly (a flat head) on either side — or sometimes both — from resting in the same position exclusively or for extended periods of time.
Treatment of torticollis often includes stretching exercises that loosen the tight SCM and strengthen the weaker muscle on the opposite side of the neck. It often includes position changes, stretching exercises, and physical therapy, as well as surgery in extreme cases. Pediatric physical therapy is often the primary treatment for torticollis and the condition may resolve in a few days or weeks, although it could take from six months to a year to go away completely.
Caregivers of a baby with torticollis should try to:
- Encourage the child to turn its head in both directions to stretch tight neck muscles and strengthen weak ones.
- Offer the bottle or breast when feeding in a way that encourages the baby to turn away from their favored side.
- Position the child facing the wall when putting it to bed. Since babies typically prefer to look out into a room, the infant will naturally stretch its neck muscles to turn away from the wall.
- Draw the baby’s attention with toys and sounds during playtime to encourage turning of the head in both directions.
- Encourage a baby’s tummy time throughout the day, which will help strengthen neck and shoulder muscles. Physicians recommend at least 30 minutes for a 2-3-month-old.
The physical therapists at CORA believe in early intervention, and offer flexible scheduling based on a baby’s needs and a caregiver’s comfort with home care. We offer a full range of cutting-edge services, including treatment for infant torticollis, through a continually growing system of more than 150 clinics located across the Southeast region. Schedule an appointment today for safe, effective therapy for your child.