Early Detection of Torticollis in Infants

Newborns and infants have very little neck and head control during the first few months of life. Over time, with supportive activities they do develop and strengthen the muscles necessary to gain head control. Some babies develop a condition that can affect the neck muscles. Torticollis in infants is quite common and easily treatable.

Some babies are born with a condition known as Torticollis or Congenital Torticollis, which causes them to show preference in tilting their head towards one side with their chin pointing the opposite side. The condition is most commonly a result of fetal position in the womb or an injury during birth and occurs in 1 out of 250 births, but it can also develop in infants later from being in one position too often. In either case, this twisting of the neck or tilted head is usually cause by a weakened or stiff muscle in the neck called the sternocleidomastoid. It does not usually cause any pain and can easily be corrected with some simple home exercises.

Signs of Torticollis

Indications that your baby may have Torticollis include:Torticollis

– Tilts head in one direction
– In breastfed babies, prefers one breast over the other
– Has difficulty turning head in one direction or unable to turn completely
– Has a flatter side or both sides of the head or flattened from position

The condition doesn’t normally cause any pain in infants when they turn their head, although it often makes it more difficult. Some babies might experience neck spasms. If left untreated, Torticollis can result in complications such as improper spinal development causing it to curve and affect baby’s posture. The sooner these symptoms are detected the sooner they can be resolved with minimal treatment.

What Can You Do to Help Your Baby

depositphotos_63526859-Pediatric-ChiropracticIf you find your baby seems to have a preference for one side over the other, has difficulty turning their head or has any other indications of Torticollis, notify your pediatrician. A physician can make a diagnosis by performing a simple physical exam.

In most cases the condition is unrelated to other medical problems, however it can be associated with birth defects. Sometimes Torticollis can be accompanied by hip dysplasia as a result from fetal positioning in the womb and your doctor may order an ultrasound.

Most times a doctor will give you exercises you can do with your baby to help strengthen the neck muscles on the opposite side to straighten the neck out. In more severe cases a doctor may also suggest a referral to a physical therapist.

My two youngest children had this condition with my youngest requiring physical therapy. The condition resolved with some simple exercises and positioning that stretched the neck muscle to strengthen it. Here are some suggestions on what you can do at home to help your baby with this. Always consult with your physician before performing any exercises on your baby.

During Feedings: Whether breast or bottle-fed, if your baby has a preference to one side, position them in a way that encourages them to turn their head to the opposite side while feeding.

During Playtime: Tummy time is strongly encouraged to help all babies strengthen their neck muscles so this is a great activity that will also help with Torticollis. Try placing toys or an object with lights and sounds in the direction they least prefer to promote turning their head.

When your baby is playing on the floor, you can also lay them on their side so that their chin rotates to the opposite side than the one they tend to favor. Gravity will aid in encouraging the correct chin position for them to stretch those muscles that are tightened as well. Try to limit time spent in a car seat, bouncer, or swing when your baby’s head has little support and they are more prone to tilt their head. A baby carrier is a great way to keep them close by while you go about your day without leaving them and encourages them to look around, turning their head in either direction.

At nap/bed time: Always place your baby to sleep on their back to reduce the risk of SIDS. Most babies will sleep with their head facing the room so place the crib with one side against the wall and lay them down so that they turn their head to the correct side (if their head tilts to the right, lay them so they have to turn their head to the left to face the room instead of the wall)

Your doctor can instruct you on more ways to treat torticollis in infants that can help the neck muscles develop properly as well as following the guidance from a physical therapist or chiropractor.

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