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March 19, 2019

What is Torticollis and How Can It Affect My Baby?

What is Torticollis?

Torticollis is a condition that involves a tightening of the neck muscles. This results in a child turning his/her head to one direction more than the other or not being able to turn his/her head fully from side to side. Torticollis is fairly common. While it usually is not painful, it may be frustrating for the child.

Signs of torticollis might include the child's head being tilted to one side, so one ear is closer to the shoulder. A child might also only roll to one side or use one arm to reach for toys.

 

What Causes Torticollis?

Torticollis can be a result of the baby's position in the womb (in utero). It could also be the result of prolonged positioning with pressure on the back of the head as an infant.

Since 1992, it has been recommended for babies to sleep on their backs, which has prevented Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). However, this safety practice has also resulted in an increase in torticollis because babies are not spending enough time on their tummies ("tummy time") to strengthen their neck and torso muscles. 

Sometimes, babies who spend too much time laying on their backs as well as sitting in a car seat, stroller or other equipment can start to develop a flat spot on the back of their heads or just do not develop the muscle strength needed to turn their heads fully.

If not corrected, there could be other impacts to a baby's development as he/she grows.

 

How Can Torticollis be Prevented?

We encourage parents to put babies on their tummies as soon as they are born. "Tummy time" does not always have to be done on the floor. It can also be effective for a child to be in a parent's lap, on the parent's chest, and many other positions to decrease the pressure on the back of the child's head and allow the child to move around and feel his/her body. 

 

We're Here to Help!

Worried that your child may have torticollis? We're here to help. Our specialized physical therapists evaluate each child at the initial visit. They assess a child's head and torso ("trunk") posture, range of motion, strength of the neck, trunk and extremities, and perform a developmental screening of gross motor skills. Measurements of the head are also taken as the shape of a baby's head can be affected by torticollis. 

Frequency of initial treatment depends on the severity of the torticollis, and therapy appointments will decrease in frequency as the child progresses. A very important part of treatment is the parent or caregiver's involvement. Continuing recommended therapy at home can include suggestions for positioning to decrease torticollis and misshaping of the head as well as stretching and strengthening exercises. Outcomes of treatment are often better if treatment is started early.

If you think your child may have developed torticollis, please contact our Curative New Berlin Therapies team by calling 262-782-9015 or request an appointment. We have caring, licensed physical therapists who are experts in the latest treatment options and would love to help your child and family thrive.  A physician referral is required for a therapy evaluation.

Learn more about Curative New Berlin Therapies

Janet Lawrence, Physical Therapist

Janet (Jan) Lawrence, PT, is a practicing pediatric physical therapist with Curative New Berlin Therapies. She graduated from Marquette University and has over 25 years of experience working with children.

Jan specializes in "serial casting" for treatment of tight heel cords or toe walking. She is trained in Neurodevelopmental Treatment (NDT) to properly assess and treat a variety of neuro-motor conditions. Jan has volunteered in several underdeveloped countries and enjoys sailing, including involvement in an adaptive sailing program.

 

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